SEATTLE – As the number of violent robberies at cannabis stores across the country soars, ironically it’s some Democratic Party leaders standing in the way of legislation that would make pot shops a less appealing target.
The S.A.F.E. Banking Act has bipartisan support and has passed in the U.S. House six times, but it’s been blocked in the Senate by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who said last summer that he would continue to oppose it until lawmakers passed more sweeping reforms. “I will lay myself down to do everything I can do to stop an easy banking bill that’s going to allow all these corporations to make all this money off of this, as opposed to focusing on the restorative justice aspects.”
The bill would allow medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational pot shops to take credit cards. It has always been an all-cash business because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Many marijuana stores even have ATMs inside them for customers who don’t usually carry cash. That has made pot shops an easy target.
Lindsey Evans knows. She and her husband own four cannabis shops in the Seattle area. Several have been hit by armed robbers, including most recently, the Euphorium store in Covington where an employee was held at gunpoint. An off-duty armed security guard ended the threat when he shot and killed the armed robber.
“A lot of my staff is out, we’re trying to figure out grief counseling to help them recover from this,” Evans said. “This is something they will never forget.”
Evans said being an all-cash business has made her employees targets, especially for those looking for money to feed their drug addiction. Washington state has seen at least 85 armed robberies at marijuana shops in 2022, already an annual record. Several have ended in death. In one case, Seattle police shot and killed a suspect who was barricaded and fired at them after an armed robbery in Bellevue. In March, a 29-year-old employee at World of Weed in Tacoma was murdered during a robbery.
After Jordan Brown’s death, Washington state Sen. Patty Murray ramped up the pressure on fellow Democrats to pass the S.A.F.E. Banking Act once and for all. “It makes absolutely no sense that legal cannabis businesses are being forced to operate entirely in cash,” Murray said.
In the 10 years since Washington state became the first to legalize recreational marijuana, 18 other states have followed. Even more states have legalized some form of medicinal marijuana. There are currently just six states remaining where cannabis is totally illegal. They are Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming, according to Disa Global Solutions.
According to the U.S. Cannabis Council, which favors legalized marijuana, cannabis is now a $25-billion-a-year business in the United States and it employs some 400,000 people. Industry leaders have said they while they do support full federal legalization, ignoring the S.A.F.E. Banking Act is getting pot shop workers killed.
“No one should have to go to work fearing for their lives,” said Steve Hawkins of the U.S. Cannabis Council. “Those individuals should not be worried if they will be going home to loved ones at the end of the day.”
Schumer, Booker and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have supported the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would provide a path for federal marijuana legalization. It has not seen much Republican support. Meantime, the S.A.F.E. Banking Act continues to flounder, getting added to everything from the defense spending bill to a bill designed to make America more competitive against China. Neither effort faces very good odds.