WASHINGTON (CIRCA) -- Within the first three years of Colorado's legal recreational marijuana industry, over 600 break-ins were reported at cannabis dispensaries in Denver, according to The New York Post.
It was only three months into Oklahoma's fledgling medical marijuana program that a dispensary was robbed. Edmond-based store Peak Dispensary was broken into in January, the thieves reportedly making off with about $1,000 of cannabis and paraphernalia.
What makes cannabis dispensaries such an attractive target for would-be robbers is the amount of money they might hold inside.
"I think until our legislators can work with us to develop a banking system that works for everyone, dispensaries are going to be a target," Peak Dispensary CEO Corbin Wyatt told KOKH. "We are a cash business, which means we do take in more cash than most businesses would have."
Most of Peak Dispensary's cash was saved, thanks to additional security systems between the main floor of the shop and the storerooms in the back. But the fact that many dispensaries have to safeguard their cash in their own shop is in itself is one of the sources of this problem.
Banking has been one of the cannabis industry's longest-standing hurdles. Because banks are federally regulated, and cannabis is still federally illegal, many banks are wary of allowing cannabis companies to open bank accounts or take out loans. And for a business to accept debit or credit cards, they need a bank account for that money to travel to.
This means that many cannabis businesses in the over 30 states with legal medical or recreational cannabis still operate only on a cash basis, and they're keeping a lot more cash than the average retail store on the premises.
“We carry more cash than banks. You can’t walk into a bank and get $300,000 in cash if you want it. You’d make more money robbing one of us,” Kenny Morrison, owner of a California Bay Area company that makes edibles, told Rolling Stone.
And robbing a dispensary is no easy feat. Most dispensaries house their vault and the majority of their product in a back room under additional security.
"We put all of our product in a secure storage area," explained Wyatt. "But [the robbers] were able to find a few stragglers that were samples out, and they were able to steal some of that."
Security footage of a break-in obtained by KSNV from a dispensary in Las Vegas shows three suspects using a crow bar to tear a hole in the dispensary's storage room wall, trying to reach a safe in the back room. That robbery was foiled by the security company monitoring the feed, which called the police. But often, thieves simply resort to more drastic means to reach their jackpot.
According to KOKH in Oklahoma, nighttime robberies could eventually turn into armed daytime holdups as would-be thieves realize that dispensaries safeguard their capital by vaulting it overnight.
Brendon Davis, the co-owner of Stronghold Protection Group, which specializes in cannabis business security, says there is an established pattern in places like Colorado and California.
"It started with overnight break-ins, then criminals quickly realized the product's vaulted, and it turns into daytime during business-hour armed robberies, that's the number one activity," he said.
Davis added that if Oklahoma follows the same pattern as states like Colorado, those robberies will increase.
"It's only a matter of time," Davis said.
Find out which states could legalize cannabis in 2019
Cannabis 2020: Here's where presidential candidates stand on marijuana
These women entrepreneurs will completely change how you see the marijuana industry