Crime Law News Retail U.S.

Organized Thieves Use Protests As Cover to Raid Weed Dispensaries

“Everyone’s getting it,” as one owner put it. And legit weed dealers are freaking out.

Located in a relatively quiet residential area of San Francisco, the dispensary is more than five miles away from the city’s downtown corridors, where demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd had been squaring off with police.

The physical remove is one reason Luke Coleman, the dispensary’s owner, believes the crowd who breached the door and ransacked the dispensary were part of an organized and dedicated break-in crew.

They were too far away to be connected with the demonstration, he argued; more sophisticated than the rogue window-smashers looting retail outlets in San Francisco’s downtown and that of other cities across America. And there were too many of them doing the exact same thing elsewhere, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, and anywhere else legal weed businesses could be found.

“It was definitely a planned attack,” Coleman told The Daily Beast.

According to interviews with about a dozen dispensary owners, cannabis business representatives and attorneys this week, Connected SF was one of dozens of California marijuana businesses to be robbed in similar and almost clinical fashion over the weekend. This includes cultivation and distribution warehouses that do not advertise their addresses to the public, but which—once identified—serve as likely caches of hard currency as well as cannabis products.

While any industry might have a vested interest in presenting looting of its storefronts as a unique menace, the cannabis burglary spree is receiving official attention, as well. All signs point to organized and skilled thieves targeting cannabis businesses, fully aware that police are more than occupied with demonstrators.

“Outside of Union Square, there were two types of businesses that were hit: With a handful of exceptions, they were either pharmacies, or cannabis clubs,” San Francisco city Supervisor Aaron Peskin told The Daily Beast.

In his district, several dispensaries were burglarized in commercial corridors, where “nothing else got hit,” he said. “This had nothing to do with police brutality and the death of Geroge Floyd,” Peskin added. “This was organized, premeditated crime.”

About a half-hour before Connected SF was hit, three cars appeared outside of California Street Cannabis, in the city’s Lower Nob Hill neighborhood, according to Ben Bleiman, one of the owners.

“They had a lookout and they had an entry guy,” Bleiman told The Daily Beast, expressing disbelief at how quickly the crew breached the dispensary’s scissor door. “This is the definition of organized crime. Three cars pulled up at the same time, they gained entry, grabbed everything they could, and were in and out in two minutes. That is organized.”

Similar scenes played out at about 10 San Francisco dispensaries on Saturday night, according to interviews and reviews of security camera footage shared with The Daily Beast. More were hit Sunday and Monday. At least two, including Connected SF, were “visited” four nights in a row, owners and managers told The Daily Beast.

In an email Tuesday, Officer Adam Lobsinger, a San Francisco police spokesman, said it was “too early in the investigation(s) to determine what connections, if any, the burglaries may have.”

Police and elected officials in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro, other cities in the Bay Area where cannabis business owners reported break-ins, did not respond to requests for comment. State cannabis industry regulators, already struggling to prop up the legal industry against illicit market competition, offered a muted response.

“The state is aware of the activity occurring at licensed locations and is closely monitoring this type of activity statewide,” said Nicole Elliott, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s senior adviser on cannabis. She declined to comment further.

It’s well known that cannabis businesses are shut out from using most banks, which reject deposits from merchants whose activity is prohibited under federal law. The burglary patterns suggest a focus on these potential cash stashes—as well as expensive name brand weed likely to be popular on the underground market.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Chris Roberts on The Daily Beast

Published: June 05, 2020

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