“I Advise You to Close:” Amid protests, crime wave targets California dispensaries

By Hilary Corrigan
Jun 2, 2020
A display case at Magnolia Oakland which says it was robbed twice this weekend.

The Magnolia Oakland dispensary lost everything to thieves Saturday night. In a Facebook post, Executive Director Debby Goldsberry calls the crime part of a targeted attack on cannabis shops by armed robbers, not the work of protesters.

“This story is not about Magnolia Wellness. It’s about this nation, blistering in pain,” she wrote Sunday. “Our shop can be rebuilt, but the black lives taken by the police, again and again, are gone forever.”

Posts from Magnolia and Goldsberry stress that armed criminals–not looters—hit Magnolia and other Bay Area dispensaries. They note that an organized crime ring has targeted dispensaries for years.

Oakland police confirmed reports of armed robberies at Oakland dispensaries this weekend. The department said it had no additional information on locations, dates or details, because of how busy it is right now.

“I advise you to close.”

“If you have not been hit yet, I advise you to close, and store your money and cannabis at a distributor” outside the Bay Area, Goldsberry warns. She says Magnolia got hit again Sunday night. The shop plans to remain closed for at least a week to rebuild.

In a phone interview Monday, Goldsberry said about 20 guys with guns showed up Saturday night. The unarmed security guard on duty had to stand down but was not injured. About 12 guys showed up the next night–apparently unarmed–and another security guard had to stand down.

They took “pretty much everything” on the first night, she said, and on the second, “they took everything else.” That was mostly computers and printers. They also vandalized the place. “Tonight we’re preparing for the possibility that it might happen again.”

‘Well-coordinated break-ins’

Dozens of cannabis businesses across the state “have been subjected to vandalism, looting and even violence over the past few days,” the California Cannabis Industry Association wrote in a Sunday letter to California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control. “Some of the attacks appear to be well-coordinated break-ins taking advantage of the civil protests and unrest” that have convulsed cities nationwide.

To protect businesses, the trade group asked the regulator to remove the physical addresses of cannabis licensees from its website. All licensing authorities did so by Sunday night, according to association spokesperson Josh Drayton.

“As we have seen throughout California and the nation, cannabis businesses have become targets, and we must take steps to minimize vulnerability,” CCIA wrote to member businesses.

It reminds them they can move product to a safe location without prior bureau approval if certain steps are taken. It also urges members to limit operating hours and delivery options — especially at night — increase security, and minimize cash and inventory on-hand.

It’s not clear what insurance will cover, Drayton said, as businesses start to file claims.

Property insurance

Cannabis property insurance policies tend to require certain security protocol for businesses to follow, such as having alarms and cameras. Stephanie Bozzuto, co-founder and president of marketing at Cannabis Connect Insurance Services, just started working on a handful of clients’ claims.

“I think we’re going to see more,” she said. She said opportunists with power tools, rather than protesters with signs, hit the cannabis businesses.

Doug Esposito, head of cannabis practice at Owen-Dunn Insurance Services, said he’s confident businesses will be covered if they had property insurance and followed security protocols. “We’re starting to see the claims roll in.” 

The San Francisco Police Department said it had no information on robberies at area dispensaries.

“It appears that the Bay Area and East Bay as well as different regions of Los Angeles have been the main targets,” Drayton wrote in an email.

The whole supply chain

It’s not just dispensaries that have been hit in recent days. Oakland cannabis attorney James Anthony said it’s the entire supply chain—dozens of cultivators and manufacturers across the state. Civil disturbances distract police and the locations of cannabis businesses is public knowledge.

“Crimes of opportunity occur,” he said.

 The robberies come as the industry is “hurting from over-taxation and over-regulation,” he said. The industry is also ineligible for federal pandemic relief.

Cannabis is still valuable “as something that can be stolen and resold,” Anthony said. “I don’t think a lot of tomato warehouses were hit last night.” Without access to banks, some pot shops also keep substantial amounts of cash on hand.

Regulating cannabis like any other plant would keep it from having this “absurd level of value” and would tamp down the illegal market, he said.

He said Oakland cultivators and dispensaries that haven’t been hit are trying to hire armed guards. “We’re just waiting to see what happens tonight.”

Other sites hit

In a statement, San Francisco dispensary The Apothecarium reported broken windows and product taken from its Castro district shop on Saturday night. It hopes to reopen later this week.

MedMen temporarily closed all of its locations.

On Instagram, rapper Berner said his Los Angeles cannabis store Cookies on Melrose Ave. can be rebuilt. “But you cannot bring someone back to life.”

“How can I worry about a store” when there’s so much more going on in the world, Berner said.

‘George Floyd should be alive’

In a statement last week, the Drug Policy Alliance tied police brutality, the war on drugs and racism together: “George Floyd should be alive today. Instead, he drew his last breath after one police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes and another taunted ‘don’t do drugs, kids’ to the gathered crowd.”

In too many cases, “perceived drug possession and drug use served as a justification by law enforcement to dehumanize, strip dignity from, and ultimately kill people of color.”

“Ending the failed war on drugs will not legalize Black people, but it will disrupt a system that chips away daily at the very core of our humanity,” the group stated.