A top official in Washington state went to Washington, D.C. last week. The topic: a recent spate of marijuana dispensary robberies that have occurred in the state. The solution: legislation that has gone dormant on Capitol Hill.
Mike Pellicciotti, the treasurer of Washington state, was in the nation’s capitol. He met “with members of the state’s Congressional delegation to help pot shop owners and their employees,” according to local news outlet KING5.
Pellicciotti contends that the cannabis dispensaries in the state have become prime targets for criminals. This is due to the large amounts of cash on hand at those establishments.
Per KING5, Pellicciott, a Democrat, “blamed federal drug laws that prohibit national banks from getting involved with pot shops in Washington state,” which he says “causes most pot shop owners to make their stores cash-only.”
“You rob the places where the cash is,” Pellicciotti, as quoted by the news outlet. “These robberies are tragic. But these robberies are also preventable.”
Cash Problems Have Plagued the Industry Since State Legalization
Washington, which legalized recreational pot use for adults through a voter-passed initiative in 2012, has seen a spike in cannabis dispensary robberies as of late. An armed robbery of a marijuana shop last week in Bellevue, Washington turned deadly, with one of three suspects fatally killed while gunfire was reportedly exchanged with police.
On Saturday, an employee at a cannabis shop in Tacoma, Washington was shot and killed in a robbery. According to the Seattle Times, that marked the “the third fatality related to a cannabis shop robbery over the past four days.” The Times said that, according to the Craft Cannabis Coalition, a trade group representing marijuana retailers in Washington, “there have been around 67 armed robberies so far in 2022,” already far more than in 2021 and 2020, which said 34 and 27 armed robberies respectively.
A lawmaker in Washington, Republican state Senator Jim Honeyford, introduced a bill this winter to address this problem. If passed, the bill would add an extra year to the prison sentence of someone who is convicted of first or second degree robbery of a marijuana dispensary. This would be the same punishment given to individuals who rob pharmacies. Honeyford echoed what Pellicciotti said. He noted that the concentration of cash at cannabis shops makes them even more vulnerable.
“When people would ask the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ Well, that’s why people rob marijuana retailers,” Honeyford said last month, as quoted by KING 5. “Due to federal banking rules, these businesses are almost entirely cash-only operations, making them a target for robberies and a magnet for criminals.”
“The number of robberies of cannabis stores is on the rise, and this bill would make improvements for not just the benefit of the retailers themselves, but for the public safety of the community as a whole,” Honeyford added.
Honeyford’s bill passed in the Washington state Senate, before dying in the state House of Representatives.
The SAFE Banking Act Holds the Key
As Pellicciotti sees it, there is another remedy to the problem. The solution is a bill known as the SAFE Banking Act that has passed in the U.S. House of Representative. The SAFE Banking Act is currently languishing in the U.S. Senate.
The legislation, first introduced by Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter back in 2013, would clear the way for banks to engage in financial services with cannabis companies operating in states where adult-use pot is legal. The U.S. House passed the SAFE Banking Act last month for the sixth time overall. However, the Senate has yet to act.
Per KING5, Pellicciotti “likes the bill’s odds this year” with Democrats still in control off the Senate.
”You can’t have a $1.4 billion a year transaction taking place in the state of Washington in cash and not have the risk of these type of robberies… it’s time,” said Pellicciotti, as quoted by KING5.