“Warning — Armed with Automatic Weapons,” reads a handwritten sign posted on wooden boards at the Flower to the People cannabis dispensary on Second Street. A message spray painted on the plywood above Moe Greens warns would-be intruders that someone is “Armed Inside.” Similar verbiage greets visitors to the Green Door, informing anyone who would even consider breaking in that the owners of the shop are on site and packing heat.
Meanwhile at the Apothecarium SoMa, a loud PA system bellows the same pre-recorded message every few minutes: “Be advised this property is being monitored by security.”
This is the current paranoiac state of the San Francisco cannabis scene. While the mostly peaceful George Floyd demonstrations have dovetailed with scattered looting and vandalism, it appears that raids of local dispensaries here and other Bay Area cities — including Oakland and San Jose — have been coordinated affairs, and pot shop owners suspect organized bands of criminals are capitalizing on a distracted and stretched-thin police force.
An SF Weekly investigation found that 22 of San Francisco’s 37 current permitted and operating dispensaries — more than half — suffered a burglary or burglary attempt since protests began in San Francisco on Friday, May 29. (Note: That figure rose to 22 with Thursday’s alleged robbery of Eureka Sky, first reported by the Bay Area Reporter.) In some cases, dispensaries avoided theft but suffered smashed windows; in other cases, burglars made off with as much as $10,000 in pot, according to a KRON-4 interview with California Street Cannabis Company.
But even these failed break-in attempts were costly to dispensary owners.
“The damage to our store is estimated at around $6,000-$7,000,” says SPARC CEO Erich Pearson. The windows at one of his three SF shops were shattered, but no merchandise was taken, on Saturday, May 30. “There was an unsuccessful break-in at our Haight Street location. All of our front windows were smashed out and our interior security gate was damaged but held up.”
That same night, over by Oracle Park, Project Cannabis co-owner Johnny Delaplane says his shop was one of the only businesses hit on an otherwise quiet evening in SoMA.
“Our front door was smashed, along with interior doors and display cases,” Delaplane says. “A significant amount of product was stolen.”
A similar scene played out across town in the Excelsior, a quiet suburbia of single-family homes where there were no demonstrations and no damage vandalism — except for multiple robbery attempts on both Friday and Saturday night, May 29 and 30, at all three of the neighborhood’s dispensaries: Connected SF, Mission Organic Center, and the Green Cross.
“Over the course of two nights, there were a total of three break-ins at the Green Cross,” the shop’s founder and president Kevin Reed tells us. “They smashed our storefront windows and damaged doors, floors and walls throughout the building.”
Reed echoed the sentiments of other dispensary owners, saying he in no way associated the actions of the burglars with the demonstrators in other parts of the city.
“The protests were located nowhere near our storefront, and from reviewing camera footage, it was obviously an organized criminal effort,” Reed says. “The police officers we worked with also confirmed this.”
Some dispensaries that were closed down also suffered break-in attempts. Pearson shut down his Valencia Corridor dispensary Love Shack by SPARC after seeing security footage of individuals who appeared to “case the joint.”
“Love Shack was not broken into or vandalized, and was temporarily closed for precautionary measures due to potential casing of the store” that Pearson observed on Saturday, May 30. “Security features at that store deterred potential incidents that night.”
But while pot shop owners avoided pointing fingers at demonstrators, many said they had a bone to pick with the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, as they complained that a legally required, publicly available online database of dispensary names and addresses made them sitting ducks. The CBCC made their searchable database inoperable last week, after industry trade groups pointed out that “dozens of cannabis businesses across the state have been subjected to vandalism, looting and even violence over the past few days.”
San Francisco quickly followed suit. The city’s official Cannabis Storefront Retail Map used to show the location of every dispensary in town; now it is just a white screen that reads, “The cannabis retail map has been taken down, temporarily.” The SF Office of Cannabis has also removed their list of current and pending dispensary locations that had previously been available on its website.
Marijuana dispensaries are a particularly juicy target for burglars. Their lack of legal banking options means they often have gobs of cash on site.
It remains to be seen whether insurance companies will reimburse pot shops for their busted gates, windows, and display cases, as this spree of break ins is a first in the legal marijuana era. But since the weed itself is federally illegal, dispensaries face long odds in getting reimbursed for stolen cannabis.
“Despite our ‘essential’ status,’ we are still treated as second class business citizens,” Delaplane points out. He adds that cannabis companies have “no access to banking and are subject to the highest taxes of any industry in the United States.”
“Cannabis operators understand what it is like to be treated unfairly,” he says. “We stand in solidarity with the peaceful protesters all over the world in demanding the reform of an unjust system.”
But some dispensaries might not be standing for much longer. The sudden loss of $10,000 or more may be too heavy of a hit, and a few shops worry this will knock them out of business forever. Just as coronavirus changed the cannabis industry overnight, these burglaries may also permanently change the face of retail matijuana.
For now, dispensaries can only hope that the worst of these break ins are behind them.
NOTE: This post has been updated with reports of an alleged burglary at Eureka Sky.