Dozens of dispensaries in the Portland, Oregon area have reported young men throwing rocks through glass windows and doors before kicking in fridges, smashing display cases and grabbing anything they could before fleeing on foot.
Cannabis shop operators in the area are livid over the string of burglaries and armed robberies plaguing the local industry. After speaking to the owners and staff of 22 Portland dispensaries, Willamette Week reported 47 break-ins, or the equivalent of a break-in every two nights.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), responsible for overseeing recreational cannabis, claims more robberies have occurred, reporting that 60 cannabis shops lost product in the last three months. While this agency hasn’t calculated the missing cannabis products’ full value, shops reported $135,000 in stolen products during June.
This could be the most extensive string of burglaries targeting a single type of business to occur in decades. Industry insiders believe that throughout August, the severity and frequency of the break-ins have grown worse.
Since multiple shops along the same streets and in the same areas have gotten burglarized on the same nights, some shop owners believe these to be premeditated robberies with routes outlined beforehand.
“It’s just rampant,” co-owner of a cannabis wholesale company operating in Portland, Ryon Nicholson, told Willamette Week. “We’re under siege pretty much.”
Could this be the result of pandemic-related stress?
MarketWatch reports that 22.2 million people out of work and fewer than half of those laid off or furloughed back to work, which could play a role in this surge of robberies. But cannabis store operators also claim the police response is inadequate
Owner of Attis Trading Company, Johnny Reece, told Willamette Week, “We never hold our breath on them catching anyone.” This statement comes following an instance on Aug. 9, when three of his employees were held at gunpoint and zip-tied before the criminals ransacked his shop. They fled with $30,000 in cash and $5,000 in flower.
Some think the robberies are happening because there aren’t as many police patrolling the downtown area. Since the protests began downtown, the police have had their hands full monitoring those situations.
“It seems like too much of a coincidence to be truly a coincidence,” Mike Getlin, owner of Oregon City cannabis farm Old Apple Farm, explained to Willamette Week. “You know that police departments are straining to keep people in check by the federal courthouse, so robbing a place across town seems like a good opportunity, I guess.”
KDRV reported that OLCC data shows cannabis sales were up 30 percent in March compared to March 2019. Oregon residents spent $69.6 million on cannabis in February, only to spend $84 million in March, making it the most significant month for cannabis sales in the state.
While many sectors have been hit hard by the pandemic, cannabis is thriving. But perhaps this has contributed to why these criminals have targeted these shops.
Reece and other cannabis business operators would like the police to prioritize this cannabis robbery spree. “We’re not drug dealers,” he explained. “We’re a legal business just like Taco Bell across the street.”