Possible links examined in cannabis robberies

Two Clallam marijuana stores victimized

PORT ANGELES — Investigators are exploring possible links between two cannabis store armed robberies in the Port Angeles area and more than 31 other retail pot thefts across Western Washington and the Puget Sound since Nov. 1.

Brian King, Clallam County chief criminal deputy, said law enforcement has increased its patrols at marijuana outlets in Clallam County since the armed incursions at Muffy’s Pot Shop on Jan. 15 east of Port Angeles and Floyd’s Cannabis on Dec. 17 west of downtown Port Angeles, both on U.S. Highway 101. The shops are 2 miles apart.

The connections among the 33 robberies include four or more hooded, masked, handgun-armed intruders entering stores late at night, some near closing time, and demanding cash, sometimes taking product and fleeing, King said.

“We have had nothing of a similar nature here in Jefferson County,” Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Brett Anglin said Monday.

He said three marijuana stores in Jefferson County were burglarized — broken into and robbed — about two or more years ago.

Members of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, which includes Clallam and Jefferson County sheriff’s offices and Port Angeles and Sequim police departments, will meet today “to put some other ideas forward as far as an investigative plan moving forward based on that information that continues to develop,” he said.

“We have additional meetings planned.”

Along with stepped-up patrols, “we’ve incorporated a couple of different patrol strategies as well,” King said.

“We’ve got leads that we want to follow up on this week and our plan is to do so.”

Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the Washington Canabusiness Association, a statewide cannabis trade group, said Monday two stores and one marijuana processor were robbed over the weekend, two in King County and one in Snohomish County.

“I’m not convinced it’s confined to any one kind of area,” he said.

“We are seeing it generally across the state. I had heard of at least one in Port Angeles,” Pickus said, referring to the Muffy’s Pot Shop theft.

The Tacoma News Tribune recently cited multiple marijuana business thefts in Thurston and Whatcom counties.

Pot store owners in Washington state can only conduct cash transactions, putting them at a disadvantage compared with other retailers when they sell their product, which cannot be purchased with a credit card, Pickus said.

“Cash is one of the unique things on site relative to other retail businesses, whether it’s in a till or a safe,” he said.

Credit cards are regulated by the federal government, which has made the use, sale and possession of marijuana illegal.

“While it is legal in the state, it’s still illegal federally, which obviously creates some unique challenges for cannabis license holders that other businesses do not have to deal with,” Pickus said.

Credit unions are allowed to offer banking services to marijuana businesses, he said. Deposits are protected by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund.

Federal legislation allowing cannabis businesses to use the federal banking system, which is federally insured, was approved Friday for the sixth time as part of the SAFE Banking Act by the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Gig Harbor democrat who represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula, voted yes.

The legislation faces an uphill climb in the Senate, which has never taken up the measure.

“Our entire federal delegation supports it,” Pickus said.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board issued a retail cannabis safety bulletin Jan. 27 in light of recent crimes against retailers.

“While robberies are not exclusive to cannabis retailers, there are inherent risks cash-only businesses have that can make them targets,” according to the bulletin (www.lcb.wa.gov).

Suggestions included posting prominent signs stating video surveillance — which is required — is in usage, keeping minimal cash in the cash register and hiring armed security.

Pickus said employees should remember never to compromise safety for property.

King said a regionwide task force may be formed to investigate the robberies in Western Washington and the Puget Sound.

If the rate of armed thefts continues at its present rate, “it’s very likely that a task force could be developed,” he said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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