As more than 20 chief executives from top cannabis companies spent last week in Washington, D.C., urging U.S. lawmakers to pass the SAFE Banking Act, the inaction of those lawmakers was felt on the other side of the country.
A male worker at the World of Weed dispensary in Tacoma, Wash., was fatally shot during an attempted robbery just after 10 p.m. March 19, according to multiple local news sources.
Police officers attempted to save the worker’s life, but he died on scene from a gunshot wound, according NBC-affiliate King 5 News and CBS-affiliate KIRO 7 News. That was the third fatal incident involving a dispensary robbery in less than a week in the western part of the state, King 5 reported.
On March 16, two suspects robbed a Green Theory dispensary at gunpoint in a suburban neighborhood of Bellevue, Wash., and fled the scene with cash and products as a third suspect drove a getaway vehicle. Police chased the suspects through Renton and into South Seattle, where they took two people into custody, but the third person ran and hid in the shed of a nearby home, Fox 13 Seattle reported.
A Seattle SWAT officer gave a verbal warning for the third suspect, a 19-year-old, to show his hands, but that suspect fired at officers, who returned fire, the news outlet reported. The suspect was hit and died at the scene.
“Any decision to pursue a suspect is highly scrutinized, and we balance the threat posed by the suspects with the risk the pursuit poses to the community,” Bellevue Police Chief Wendell Shirley told Fox 13. “In this case, these suspects were armed and extremely dangerous, and we needed to get them into custody to prevent further harm.”
And then on March 17, an armed employee of at the Euphorium dispensary in Covington, Wash.— northeast of Tacoma and southeast of Seattle—shot and killed a would-be robber, The Seattle Times reported.
Euphorium Director of Operations Ryan Evans told the Times the suspect confronted an employee in the dispensary parking lot, put the employee in a chokehold and held a gun to his head.
“The perpetrator walked the employee up to the store, got in the door and told our ID and security people, ‘This is a robbery,’” Evans said. “My ID checker said, ‘Are you serious?’ and when he was, my ID checker drew his weapon and fired.”
Those three fatal instances are some of the latest in a string of more than 65 armed robberies of cannabis dispensaries this year in the western part of Washington, according to robbery data compiled by cannabis retail owners.
The robberies come at a time when the cannabis retail industry remains a target of violent crime with the absence of SAFE Banking.
While some cannabis businesses utilize local and regional banking in the U.S., options are limited with the plant still illegal under federal law. By and large, the cannabis industry operates in cash without federal clarity providing safe harbor to financial institutions servicing cannabis clients.
In part, that’s why more than 20 cannabis industry CEOs, top executives and state leaders met with congressional leaders this past week in Washington, D.C., urging them for immediate action on banking reform.
Curaleaf CEO Joe Bayern was among those making the push.
“There is certainly momentum building around trying to get something done this year in the Senate. On both the Republican and Democratic side we’re seeing consensus for SAFE Banking as being the piece of legislation that could pass,” Bayern said in an interview with The Hill.
The U.S. House has passed SAFE Banking, sponsored be Colorado Democrat Rep. Ed Perlmutter, six times in the past few years, including twice as a standalone bill and, most recently, as an amendment to the America COMPETES Act last month.
Each time, the Senate has failed to act.
Washington state’s treasurer Mike Pellicciotti was among those advocating for cannabis banking reform last week on Capitol Hill.
Pellicciotti said the number of Washington dispensaries targeted by armed robbers is increasing because of federal banking laws forcing retailers to operate their businesses in all cash, King 5 reported.