Oregon legalized recreational weed use back in 2014 so there are lots of shops selling it in Portland. In December, a 44-year-old man named Michael Arthur was shot and killed during a robbery at one shop. The thieves got away with a few jars of weed worth $1,000 each and a tip jar. Other weed shop owners in the city weren’t surprised. In fact, they’d been expecting it to happen because of the cannabis crime wave that has been taking place in the city.
People who’ve watched Portland’s weed crime spree say the fatal shooting was only a matter of time.
By the time Arthur was killed, Portland cannabis shops had already been robbed, burglarized or looted 95 times in 10 months, according to data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
That number is now up to 103, with three armed robberies so far in 2021…
“We specifically said, ‘Somebody’s gonna get killed,'” says Mike Getlin, who owns a cannabis farm and founded the Oregon Industry Progress Association, a lobbying group. “I think it’s going to happen again.”
The reasons for the crime spree aren’t hard to discern. Weed is legal in Oregon but selling it is still a crime at the federal level. That means pot shops can’t open bank account with most banks, which means the shops tend to do everything in cash.
Some cannabis retailers have resorted to depositing cash from sales into personal bank accounts.
That’s a gamble: Frequently depositing high-dollar amounts can result in a “suspicious activity” flag. If a bank learns where the money is coming from, it can shut down an account entirely. (Two store owners who spoke to WW said they tried this strategy in the past and got caught.)
Having cash and money on hand makes the shops a particularly appealing target for teenagers looking for both weed and money. Most of the people who’ve been caught and charged in these robberies are teenagers, some still in high school. Here’s video of one of the robberies from last month:
One owner who was robbed of over $100,000 in cash during a violent robbery said the pot dispensaries are sitting ducks:
“It’s really scary,” Monteleone says. “You’re a sitting duck.”
He’s given up hope police will help.
“They don’t care. They don’t show up,” he says. “There’s no policing going on. And you think the gangs aren’t smart enough to notice that? It essentially allowed the criminal underbelly to take over.”
Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way is to point out that the city recently cut the police budget as part of the “defund police” effort. They’ve also had over 100 officers leave, many for jobs in other cities making less money. Officers got tired of nightly protests that often turned into riots. Police were saying months ago that they did not have enough officers to manage the riots and handle calls that didn’t involve immediate threats to life and limb. So the “criminal underbelly” taking over is about what you would expect under the circumstances.
I’m not a fan of drugs or drug users, but as a somewhat reluctant libertarian on this issue it does seem that the limitations on banking are at least part of the problem here. The article reports that $100 million worth of weed was sold in Oregon in January of this year alone. With that kind of cash involved, crime is going to continue until owners have a safe place to put their money.