Washington state senator proposes new penalties for dispensary robberies

To combat a riding number of thefts from Washington state cannabis stores, a proposed new law could see alleged robberies charged as either first-degree robbery, a class A felony, or second-degree robbery, a class B felony, and then seek additional time by proving a “special offense.”

Washington state Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, has proposed increased penalties for the use of a vehicle to damage or gain entry to marijuana retailers.

Under Senate Bill 6133, prosecutors could charge alleged robberies with either first-degree robbery, a class A felony, or second-degree robbery, a class B felony, and then seek additional time by proving a “special offense.”

The bill was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee. The committee has until Jan. 31 to consider the legislation.

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“Cannabis shops are located all over in our communities, and they have really become a magnet for an unprecedented level of criminal activities,” said McCune, who serves on the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee. “Criminals know these are primarily cash-only businesses, which makes them easy targets. Whole safes have been hauled away. Employees have been pistol-whipped or shot — some even killed. And customers and neighbors have been traumatized.

According to Washington’s Craft Cannabis Coalition, marijuana retailers in Washington reported more than 100 reported robberies in 2022. According to McCune, the rise of the “Kia Boys” internet trend and restrictions on police pursuits have resulted in upticks in auto theft, assault, robberies and other crimes.

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“The ‘Kia Boys’ and similar criminals steal cars — often Kias — and use those vehicles to smash into storefronts, take what they can, and then quickly flee in another stolen vehicle,” McCune said. “They are doing thousands of dollars in damage and putting lives at risk, for what often turns out to be a relatively small amount of merchandise and cash. And they are hitting multiple locations each time they go out.”

The legislation would require retailers to report robberies to the State Liquor and Cannabis Board within 10 days of the incident and require the Washington State Patrol to regularly consult the board’s chief enforcement officer.

“Whether people like it or not, cannabis stores have been legal in Washington for nearly a decade, and the state is bringing in nearly half a billion dollars a year in tax revenue from this product,” said McCune. “If the state is going to profit from having a legal cannabis industry, it should also do everything possible to protect workers, customers and the community from criminal activity at cannabis retailers.”

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