Pot Shop Burglaries Spike in Denver Amid Coronavirus Lockdown

Earlier this week, the Denver Police Department sent a memo to the city’s legal cannabis retailers warning them of a “slight increase” in burglaries during the coronavirus lockdown. But a closer look at the statistics reveals that calling the increase “slight” is an understatement.

Compared to the first quarter of 2019, twice as many pot shop burglaries have already occurred in 2020. As of April 13, police received reports of 31 weed store robberies, 10 of which happened in the first two weeks of April alone. In the first four full months of 2019, only 16 burglaries were reported. 

The rate of pot shop burglaries already hit a three-year high last year, with a total of 122 robberies reported to police. This year seems to be on track to beat that record, though, as the number of burglaries continues to grow month-by-month. Cannabis retailers reported 7 robberies in January, 6 in February, 8 in March, and 10 so far in April. In comparison, only two-to-four burglaries a month were reported during the first three months of 2019.

“We know that all of you have established new policies during this pandemic to limit the number of customers in your stores while practicing good social distancing recommendations,” Denver police wrote in the memo, according to The Denver Post. “If you have not done so already, please take this time to incorporate additional measures to prevent a crime from occurring at your business.”

The police department recommended several steps to help businesses defend themselves against burglars. The memo recommends that security guards should patrol the store premises regularly and remain visible at all times. If the store does not have the budget for security, police recommend that managers designate an employee to monitor outside cameras and check the outside of the business.

Police recommend that store employees should keep an eye out for customers who may be “casing” the business by asking questions about store hours, how many employees are currently working, or other details that could help criminals plan a robbery. Employees should also watch out for customers who seem to be taking pictures or “mental notes” of store exits, video cameras, or other aspects of the store’s layout.

The memo also recommends that weed stores limit the amount of cash on hand at any given time. This is an especially difficult task for state-legal cannabis companies, however. Federal law prevents financial institutions from handling funds connected to controlled substances, which in turn prevents legal pot shops from opening bank accounts or accepting credit card payments. 

As a result, legal pot shops often have large sums of cash on hand at all times, making them an especially lucrative target for burglaries. Just last month, Oregon cops busted a multi-state burglary ring that robbed weed shops in Oregon and Washington. A Chicago pot dispensary was robbed just one week after it opened its doors in January. 

In most of these cases, police report that burglars are mostly interested in stealing cash over weed. The spike in pot shop robberies is likely to continue to grow as long as these businesses are forced to deal solely in cash, reinforcing the importance of legislative efforts to allow state-legal cannabis businesses access to standard banking services.

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