If you have been to a Maryland dispensary, you probably passed through at least three security checkpoints—a locked front door, a front desk check-in, and a locked door to the sales floor. Some dispensaries even hire full time security guards.
This is because dispensaries are prone to robberies, not because of the cannabis—but the cash onsite. Most dispensaries are cash only, but not by choice—banks typically refuse to service cannabis businesses due to the ongoing criminalization of cannabis at the federal level
Just last week, RISE dispensary in Joppa was robbed at closing time. The Harford County Sheriff’s Department released the following statement:
“On March 16, at 7:50 p.m, deputies assigned to the Southern Precinct of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Rise Dispensary 700 block of Pulaski Highway, Joppa, for the report of an armed robbery. Upon arrival, deputies were informed an unknown male was able to gain access to the business after hours and threatened the employee. The suspect then stole an undisclosed amount of cash and fled the area. The employee suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene by medics. No one else was in the business, at the time.”
Because federal regulations prevent banks from servicing state-legal cannabis businesses, dispensary storefronts typically have more cash onsite than other retail businesses. If an individual is looking to rob an establishment with large sums of cash (or pounds of cannabis), a dispensary looks like an excellent target. Because they are regulated by federal law, most banks are not willing to take on the risk of financing the sale of what is still considered an illegal substance.
Cannabis legalization is meant to reduce violence associated with its sale in the illicit market, a cause which is complicated when legal cannabis establishments have more cash and product on hand than your average street corner salesman.
In October 2019, someone drove a box truck through the wall of Maggie’s dispensary in Baltimore City in the middle of the night. Because dispensaries keep their cash and product in a steel vault overnight, the suspects were unsuccessful. This poses an even greater safety risk for staff who must be present to hand over cash or cannabis in order for an individual to successfully rob a dispensary.
Customers’ purchases are made in cash in addition to any transactions between businesses. Operating a cash only business requires additional spending, including hiring an armored vehicle service to transport your cash, an ATM rental to keep onsite and sometimes even a security guard. The cash-only nature of cannabis is one of the major barriers to entry of the legal market for those most harshly persecuted by racist cannabis prohibition. Because of these additional operating costs, large multistate operators with access to large sums of private capital are advantaged over small, state-local businesses who can’t even apply for a small business loan.
Meredith Kinner, a cannabis attorney in Washington, D.C., who often helps cannabis business licensees navigate the complicated legal nuances of the industry, and one of the founders of The Outlaw Report, said “states can make banking easier for cannabis [businesses] but really Congress needs to pass legislation that would permit banks to work with state legal companies without the added compliance costs.”
In September 2019 the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the Secure And Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE) which would have prohibited federal banking regulators from penalizing a bank for providing services to a state legal cannabis business, but the bill was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate. The House passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE) in 2020 which would have removed banking roadblocks by stripping cannabis of its Schedule I status, but the bill faced the same fate in the Senate.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Department is still searching for the suspect involved in the RISE robbery and are actively seeking information for a cash reward.