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Crime Targeting L.A. Cannabis Dispensaries Hit An All-Time High

photo: Add Weed/Unsplash

Robberies of L.A. cannabis dispensaries have hit an all-time high. And we’re not just talking about sheriff’s department deputies hitting money transport vans or Fed-enforced tax collector raids this time.

Tapping an LAPD data set, Crosstown notes a rising trend in criminal acts reported by our legal cannabis retailers, including burglaries, stickups, and armed assaults. Noting 10 reported crimes in January and 14 in February, compared to an average that rarely went above four monthly crimes in past years, 2022 and the tail end of 2021 have already seen more reported crimes per month than in any other year since 2018, when sinsemilla sales became legal in L.A.

It appears the confluence of swimming pools full of cash and rainbows of cannabis-stuffed jars make an enticing aim for criminals who appreciate these things. Dispensaries are dealing with multiple incidents in some cases, such as California Cannabis Melrose Dispensary’s being both the target of a thwarted January 11 burglary attempt and a month later the victim of a stickup when four faux customers walked in and held a staffer at gunpoint as the shelves and cash register was emptied.

A high majority of these reported crimes are thefts and burglaries, including thieves breaking into dispensaries at night to steal product and/or wreck shit. Dispensaries in the herbal hubs of Hollywood, Downtown, Van Nuys, and Larchmont have faced the biggest number of incidents.

With the LAPD dataset showing an almost two-fold increase in crime at L.A. dispensaries this year, the issue of these legal businesses being forced to use cash is being cited as a major reason the businesses make such convincing targets. Marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, often denying ganja-preneurs the ability to use common financial institutions, who fear repercussions for dealing with the quasi-legal entities.

Beyond losing product, profit, and funds, the spike in crime is turning the already overhead-heavy cannabis business into an even more expensive affair. Both cultivators and retail dispensary owners are legally required to have both an alarm and video surveillance system, in addition to at least one security guard during operating hours, in addition to specific lighting and storage requirements.

All of this, on top of the high taxes and insurance rates operators have been vocally protesting in recent months, as well as what’s seen as a lax position about stopping illegal retail businesses that compete with legal operators and create a sketchier vibe around legitimate cannabis sales.

2016’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act changed the laws around cannabis-related felonies, making most crimes misdemeanors that were formally considered felonies. Lighter sentencing, as well as a reduction in dispensary numbers from the years when Californian cannabis was only sold as medicine, have created caused illicit dispensaries to flourish, according to dispensary owners like Jerred Kiloh, who is also president of the Los Angeles-based United Cannabis Business Association.

Kiloh tells Crosstown the robberies can also kill a dispensary’s ability to secure insurance in the future. It’s entirely conceivable, though not documented, that thieves behind some of these burglaries could be operators of unlicensed dispensaries themselves, taking the product to resell at their own shops. Combined with the perception that cops aren’t always called to the scene of a crime at illicit dispensaries, or do anything if they are, is further bolstering the idea that business owners attempting to run a dispensary legally are still left vulnerable, forced to navigate the mire of a Wild West where anything goes and both authorities and criminals can target your earnings or product.

Compounding legal operators’ financial woes, break-ins and burglaries cause physical damages that can hit a business hard while draining them of profits, in addition to traumatizing employees and dampening their will to work in the industry.

The Cannabis Chamber of Commerce’s regional director, Hirsh Jain, says thieves often have an overgrown perception of how much cash is even inside these businesses in the first place.

“I think you’re finding a lot of disappointed robbers there,” he says.

In 2011, the research giants at The RAND Corporation published a study that tamped down the question of dispensaries causing greater crime in their areas, reporting that an uptick in dispensaries does not lead to more neighborhood crime in L.A.

The study was later withdrawn under pressure from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, which claimed the study failed to include crime data reported by the Los Angeles Police Department, seemingly hoping to strengthen the case that crime and legal cannabis go together.

An environment well worth considering when taking L.A. police statistics into account, especially when it comes to cannabis and the sketchy state of “kinda legal, kinda not” that continues to frustrate legal operators.

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