WA House PS - Committee Meeting
(February 18, 2022) - SB 5927 - Public Hearing

SB 5927 - Cannabis Retail Robberies

Committee members heard positive testimony on a bill to increase penalties for cannabis retail robberies, and asked questions about the frequency of incidents and other solutions.

Here are some observations from the Friday February 18th Washington State House Public Safety Committee (WA House PS) Committee Meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • After passage by the Washington State Senate (WA Senate) on February 10th, the first stop for SB 5927, "Concerning the safety and security of retail cannabis outlets," was a policy committee hearing.
    • At publication time, robberies and thefts at cannabis businesses were increasing in part because of the resale value of cannabis in unregulated markets across the state and country, but more so because federal banking and financial service barriers pushed retail sales almost entirely to cash transactions.
      • In January 2020, SB 6033 attempted to remedy the pattern of robberies by requiring local law enforcement to report cannabis robberies to the Washington State Patrol (WSP) as well as create sentencing enhancements for those convicted of a robbery. Though the bill received a public hearing and was passed out of committee, lawmakers didn’t advance it further.
      • In January 2021, the owners of Uncle Ike's shared a spreadsheet documenting cannabis store robberies and burglaries in Washington dating back to February 2017 which listed 156 incidents at publication time, including 24 so far in February.
    • WA House PS Counsel Corey Patton explained the legislative effects outlined in the bill analysis (audio - 3m, video):
      • “Establishes a special allegation and sentencing enhancement for Robbery in the first or second degree where the perpetrator commits a robbery of a licensed cannabis retail outlet as a premeditated act in concert with another individual or individuals.”
        • Patton noted the difference between first and second degree offenses, stating that convictions had “determinate sentencing ranges for most felony offenses.” He then told the committee about existing special allegations, saying if a person was “convicted of robbery in the first or second degree, and there’s a special allegation pled and proven” that the person robbed a pharmacy, “a sentencing enhancement is applied that increases the standard sentencing range by 12 months.”
      • “Requires a licensed cannabis retail outlet to report any attempt or incident of Robbery in the first or second degree at the retail outlet to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) within 10 days of the attempt or incident. 
      • Requires the LCB's chief enforcement officer to regularly consult with the Washington State Patrol to provide details of attempts or incidents of Robbery in the first or second degree of licensed cannabis retail outlets and to discuss any evidence that indicates a pattern of, or coordinated effort by, a criminal enterprise.”
    • The fiscal note for SB 5927 was indeterminate as state staff anticipated impacts to costs for incarceration time, but didn’t quantify them.
  • Testimony was universally supportive of the legislation, with one person signing in as ‘other’ among two dozen signing in ‘pro.’
    • Adán Espino, Craft Cannabis Coalition (CCC) Executive Director (audio - 1m, video
    • Tawyna Jenkin, Star 21 (audio - 2m, video
      • Jenkin testified that she’d been in cannabis retail for “a long, long time” and first experienced an armed robbery when her 21 year old daughter was with her “at the shop at closing.” Four men entered armed with “assault rifles, banana clips” and “put guns to all of our heads,” she explained. While no one was injured in the encounter, other robberies at her store had left “employees shot, we’ve had employees pistol-whipped,” Jenkin relayed. She said it had been traumatic to be “robbed when you’re just trying to make a living,” and then feel “like there's no help out there.” Jenkin supported the bill and “really would like to see change.”
      • Ranking Minority Member Gina Mosbrucker inquired whether the robbers had been after cash or cannabis products. Jenkin replied that they’d stolen both and pointed the finger at reporting from local law enforcement “that we carry $100,000 cash on us at any time” as driving unwanted attention from potential criminals (audio - 1m, video).
      • Goodman asked how regularly cash was transferred out of the shop in armored car transfers. Jenkin answered that she wasn’t “allowed to, there’s only one bank that I know that we deal with. It’s very far away and it’s not something that a small shop that doesn’t make a whole lot can go ahead and pay for someone to do that throughout the day” (audio - 1m, video).
    • Brooke Davies, Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA) Deputy Director (audio - 2m, video
      • Davies agreed that there had been “an alarming spike” in the crimes in the preceding months. While those incidents “predominantly targeted retail businesses,” she indicated that licensed transporters, producers, and processors had also been victims. She concurred that the industry generally dealt in cash transactions “because federally regulated banks and credit card companies are not yet able to provide their normal services.” While some stores did have daily cash pickups, Davies indicated that was dependent upon what a business was “able to afford.” 
      • Davies argued for a “unique and broad response to this crisis” by having sentencing “align with the penalties for robbing a pharmacy.” She further called for a law enforcement task force to be formed to pursue “a robust response to these crimes,” stressing that the “safety and viability of the regulated marketplace” couldn’t be taken for granted. Davies wanted to ensure the safety of the “11,330 workers directly employed” in the cannabis sector.
      • Goodman asked about the idea of a task force, which wasn’t part of SB 5927. She responded that the broad approach taken by cannabis trade groups included federal advocacy for passage of the SAFE Banking Act, stiffer penalties for offenders, and creation of a task force “that provides…funding, or facilitates communications” between state and local law enforcement. Davies recalled previously testifying to the committee “three or four years ago, and we had a young woman who was held at gunpoint,” but incidents had been increasing, perhaps including “the same group targeting multiple stores.” She asked for a task force to track robberies to try to “notice patterns” (audio - 1m, video).
        • On Monday February 21st, Senator Christine Rolfes released her proposed substitute to SB 5693, the supplemental operating budget bill. A “prevention of robberies in cannabis businesses task force” was defined as a $250K budget proviso granted to WSLCB in section 140 on page 142. The 12-member body would be convened by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) and be responsible for producing an initial report for the Governor and legislative committees by December 2022.
      • Goodman was curious whether armed robberies were actually occurring “on a daily basis.” Davies said WACA members were “keeping track” of the crimes that were happening “every day, sometimes multiple times a day,” including some stores that had been hit repeatedly (audio - <1m, video).
      • Assistant Ranking Minority Member Brad Klippert wondered why reporting the incidents was required: “why wouldn’t they automatically report this, why is this now being required by law that they do so?” Davies referred the question to WSLCB officials, saying she thought reporting robberies was already required, but it may have only been reporting when “product is missing.” Goodman was in agreement that traceability required reporting “any discrepancies” in inventory to WSLCB (audio - 1m, video).
    • Chris Thompson, WSLCB Director of Legislative Affairs (audio - 1m, video
      • Thompson was clear that retailers were “not required to report to us" in the event of robberies, and that the legislation would give the agency more data. He relayed "a sense" of WSLCB staff that incidents “were increasing in frequency.” Thompson called the "only window" the agency had into the problem—traceability reporting—“an imperfect tool." He added that agency leaders saw “no imminent indication of federal banking reform" to stop cannabis stores from being cash-intensive and “uniquely vulnerable” businesses. Thompson therefore deemed SB 5927 an “important public safety measure" worth supporting.
    • Shea Hynes, Lux Pot Shop Co-Owner  and CCC member, signed up to speak in favor of the legislation but was unavailable when called upon. He testified during the first public hearing on the bill.
    • Signed in pro but not testifying (23):
    • Neil Beaver, Washington Defenders Association and Washington Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (WACDL) Contract Lobbyist signed in as ‘Other.’ 
  • Chair Roger Goodman called for the committee to “take action on this, this is sort of an urgent matter" at the conclusion of the hearing (audio - <1m, video
    • WA House PS scheduled the bill for “possible executive session” on both Tuesday February 22nd and Thursday February 24th, the latter date being the last day to pass legislation from the opposite house out of policy committees. Assuming recommendation to the Washington State House Rules Committee for calendaring, the legislation would then have until March 4th to be passed by the chamber.
    • Were the bill amended, any changes would have to be approved by the WA Senate. The legislation would then be enrolled and delivered to the Washington State Office of the Governor (WA Governor) for executive signature.
      • At publication time, Representative Mosbrucker had proposed an amendment which would remove the requirement that a robbery had to be a premeditated act to trigger the sentencing enhancement.

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