Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A rash of high-profile heists has been going on in Northern California for weeks, with groups of roving thieves targeting luxury retailers all over the Bay Area. But in Oakland, it was the pot shops getting burglarized. And the industry has had enough.
According to SFist, coordinated caravans of vehicles struck at least 15 cannabis businesses over the weekend before Thanksgiving. Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said that “hundreds” of vehicles were involved, and that some of the suspects were armed — at least one incident resulted in a shootout with a dispensary security guard.
“We’re not going to tolerate this type of activity within the city of Oakland,” Armstrong said, per The Mercury News. “We’re going to respond.”
At least seven people have been arrested in connection with the Oakland robberies so far. According to some cannabis business owners, however, a few arrests is not enough.
RELATED: The Increase in Dispensary Crime Just Reaffirms the Need for Cannabis Banking
What can be done
The owner of Oakland’s Blunts And More dispensary near the Oakland Coliseum says police response has been slow. And he should know: This is the second time his shop has been targeted.
Alphonso “Tucky” Blunt estimates that more than a dozen people broke into his shop on the morning of November 21; a surveillance video shows them looting display cases. His private security team showed up minutes after the burglars started scaling the fencing and called the police.
While most of the product taken was dropped at the scene at Blunts And More, it doesn’t alleviate any unease Blunt feels about the safety of his business. And the monetary losses hit especially hard for cannabis businesses that pay a higher amount of taxes than other retailers in the state.
He, along with groups like Oakland-based Supernova Women, are demanding more from the police, along with tax relief for cannabis businesses in the Bay Area.
“We’re tired of talking. We’re tired of paying high insurance rates, excess security, paying for taxes,” Blunt told KRON4 News. “We’re talking about a tax strike potentially. We’re talking about picketing the mayor’s office. We don’t know what we can do, but it’s time for action.”
How tax relief can help
According to Supernova Women, which helps BIPOC business owners get a fair shake in the cannabis industry, businesses that were targeted face more than $5 million in losses. That, on top of higher taxes cannabis businesses already pay, leaves these operators particularly vulnerable.
“Cannabis is taxed exorbitantly higher than any other type of business in Oakland at 6.5% – 8.5%. Regular Oakland businesses pay 0.12%. Where is our representation that reflects this unbalanced taxation,” asks one call to action on Instagram.
The group wants to make more capital available to cannabis business owners so they can protect themselves, and one way is to lower taxes at the local and state level. This would allow more funds to bolster security.
“Small businesses and small farmers need help. Piling on and increasing taxes, and now the threat of robberies and violence, is proving to be unbearable for most cannabis operators,” Amber E. Senter, co-founder and chairman of Supernova Women, said in a press release. “Our communities do not have the runway for robberies and tragedies of this kind. We need more protection, and we need more funds and resources to improve security so that we can protect ourselves.”
The group is working with Equity Trade Certification to open the Cannabis Equity Relief Fund (C.E.R.F) for BIPOC and social equity operators who have been affected by the burglaries.
“With little to no help from insurance companies, we will band together to rebuild our businesses. Products, property, morale and all,” the group said.