Skip to main content

Pot shop burglaries, thefts and losses more than doubled in California

Isaiah Tapia shows a cannabis bud at Poncho Brotherz dispensary in San Francisco on Oct. 21, 2022. | Felix Uribe Jr for The Standard

A Nob Hill dispensary lost roughly $100,000 worth of inventory to a burglary by “professional thieves” armed with bolt cutters and crowbars in January, according to its owners.

In February, a store manager at San Francisco’s Stiiizy SoMa was kidnapped, blindfolded and driven to Oakland and back again, before being forced to let his assailants into the dispensary. Suspects stole some $30,000 in cash, police said. 

By March, burglars hit San Francisco’s “Nordstrom of Cannabis,” causing upward of $40,000 in property damage and stole cannabis products from Posh Green in Hunters Point, according to its owner, who has yet to reopen the storefront after the break-in. 

This slew of dispensary and distribution site burglaries caused local cannabis operators to demand more support from the city—especially since cannabis operators allege the repeat robberies come from industry insiders.

Ali Jamalian of Sunset Connect (far left) speaks during a press conference at Stiiizy SoMa. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

READ MORE: SF Dispensary Owners Blame ‘Inside Job’ After String of Armed Robberies

Now, state data from marijuana loss reports reveals that reported incidents more than doubled in California between 2021 and 2022. Loss reports include missing products from burglaries, theft and other wastage.

Marijuana dispensaries, manufacturers, cultivators, distributors and retailers notched 329 loss reports in 2022, compared with the 147 reports made the previous year. In the first three months of this year, the state documented 85 total loss reports.

San Francisco saw no change in loss reports, recording 16 incidents in both 2021 and 2022. Still, local storefront owners often operate businesses in neighboring counties, which saw more dramatic increases in theft and burglaries. Loss reports in Alameda County, for example, nearly doubled last year. 

“This pandemic of robberies, these sprees of violence aren’t just affecting San Francisco, but they are uniquely affecting the Bay Area,” said Lauren Avenius, CEO of Node Labs, a cannabis distributor. “From Sonoma County all the way down to Santa Cruz, we are seeing that it is a group of organized, professional and proficient criminals who are targeting cannabis operators.” 

Though retail thefts comprise the largest share of incidents at cannabis businesses, many in the industry say that manufacturers and distributors are increasingly targeted, largely because they tend to carry a bigger inventory of cannabis products and storefront operating plans are publicly accessible. 

“You can get more product out of a cultivation and distribution center than you can a retail store—and we have cash,” Avenius said. “It’s very easy to find our floor plans, hours of operations, and security systems. That’s all part of the application process they make available to the public during the planning process.” 

Lauren Avenius (center) of Node Labs speaks during a press conference at Stiiizy SoMa. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

Dispensary owners also noted that bigger banks often don’t want to do business with cannabis companies, which operators say has effectively placed a target on their businesses. 

Avenius says some 70% of cannabis businesses are unbanked. Federal legislation to allow banks to do business with cannabis companies failed to pass in Congress in December of last year. 

Cannabis operators at a Thursday press conference called upon city leaders to support industry operators and reform certain laws—such as no-pursuit policies—that they say fail to make dispensaries safer or more protected. Other industry veterans caution against blanket efforts to increase police presence. 

“A public-private partnership is the answer here, utilizing state [cannabis] grant dollars,” said Chris Eggers, founder of Cannabis Compliant Security Solutions and a former SF police officer. “It’s going to be the responsibility of the municipality to really want to be engaged and help solve this problem. […] There’s room to utilize grant dollars in a public-private partnership that doesn’t rely on police presence.”