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Canada’s legal weed stores attractive targets for robbers

February 7, 2020

As staff at Oshawa’s Tokyo Smoke cannabis store closed up on Saturday night, February 1, they were confronted by two men wearing Halloween masks and holding guns. They emptied the tills and escaped in a waiting car.

Meanwhile, in Edmonton, four cannabis stores have been robbed since December, and those robberies have also involved firearms.

Prior to legalization, unlicensed dispensaries were a frequent target for robberies by bandits motivated by the knowledge they were high-yield, cash-only businesses unfriendly to police. Dispensary robberies became widespread enough that some were able to distinguish themselves by their violence, and others by their absurdity. However, since legalization, the problem has begun to shift to the legal cannabis retail market.

After licensed producer Aleafia reported it had lost a truckload of product to thieves, security expert David Hyde noted robberies appreciate that cannabis retail combines compact, high-value products with insistence on cash.

“It is hard to find a store that is an exact comparable to a cannabis store,” Hyde told the Globe and Mail, “but it is a hybrid between a jewellery store and the check-cashing stores or Money Marts of the world, because the latter has the cash and the former has the high-value items, but in a cannabis store they are both in the same place. You’ve got the double-whammy effect there, so they are attractive to criminals.”

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Regulations may not be playing in the favour of retail safety: in one Edmonton robbery, a store-owner complained the government-mandated window-coverings designed to prevent minors from seeing cannabis prevented potential witnesses seeing the robbery occurring.

Chris Wilson, owner of Edmonton’s CannaMart cannabis store, called on Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis to clarify rules on window-covering, but the provincial regulator said window-coverings were a federal matter. Meanwhile, AGLC representative Healther Holmen noted federal rules do not call for windows to be covered, but rather only “[prohibit] the display of cannabis or cannabis accessories where they can be seen by a young person.

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AGLC representative Healther Holmen told CTV News, “In order to better display products for sale openly within the store and for customer experience purposes, most licensees have decided to cover their windows – but this is not an AGLC requirement.”

Fortunately, there were no injuries in any of the recent robberies. However, as HR expert Erin Gratton pointed out, that doesn’t guarantee employees who were threatened at gunpoint won’t suffer trauma as a result of the events.

Saying she hoped employers would provide support for employees who suffered the incident, Gratton reminded retailers to complete workplace violence assessments and train staff on handling potential robberies.

Jesse B. Staniforth's Bio Image
Jesse B. Staniforth

Jesse B. Staniforth is the editor of the free cannabis-industry
newsletter WeedWeek Canada. He also reports on Indigenous issues,
cybersecurity, and food safety.

View Jesse B. Staniforth's articles