Spate of Marijuana Robberies Causes Concern

Spate of Marijuana Robberies Causes Concern

A spate of robberies targeting marijuana businesses in California in November has left industry people in Oakland, Calif., asking for some kind of tax relief.

Retailers in San Francisco, San Jose, Hayward, Walnut Creek and Oakland have been robbed by gangs of thieves that seemed to target cannabis companies. Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said more than 25 businesses — cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and retail (both delivery and storefronts) — were hit and, during one of the robberies, the thieves fired shots that required police to take cover. The businesses are now faced with more than $5 million in losses. Across the bay, the San Francisco Chronicle posted a video that seems to show police watching a robbery and doing nothing to help after they got a 911 call from a cannabis business.

When a theft of cannabis occurs in California, a retailer seeking a refund of taxes needs to work with a distributor to amend relevant tax filings. Unlike other systems, where taxes are due only at point-of-sale, California’s cannabis tax process — where retailers must pay estimated excise tax to distributors, who then remit the payment to state tax authorities — is relatively long and cumbersome, and requires arduous record keeping. Oakland’s several hundred marijuana businesses bring in $14 million annually to the city coffers, according to budget figures.

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“The cannabis industry needs tax relief. Cannabis equity businesses, in particular, need more money and resources. Small businesses and small farmers need help,” Amber E. Senter, co-founder and chairman of Supernova Women, a nonprofit working to empower minorities in the cannabis and natural-plant medicine spaces, said

“Piling on and increasing taxes and now the threat of robberies and violence is proving to be unbearable for most cannabis operators,” she continued. “When we are faced with targeted attacks, the effects are magnified. Our communities do not have the runway [financially] for robberies and tragedies of this kind.”

Advocates are looking for a repeal of the cannabis cultivation tax and a lowering of the excise tax on marijuana products in the state. That’s a tough process, said Nicole Elliott, director of the California Department of Cannabis Control. “Though state law does not require excise and sales tax to be paid on stolen goods, the complexities of the current cannabis tax structure mean that, in practice, it can be difficult for retailers to recover those taxes. 

“We encourage businesses to focus their advocacy on addressing the broader cannabis tax challenges and engage with their state legislators on policy proposals to reform and simplify California’s cannabis tax structure. A 2/3 vote is needed to amend the law related to cannabis taxes, so any changes will require a collective effort,” Elliott added.

Meanwhile, advocates and business owners seem to be unsure of what to do.

“We’re not going to hire people with AK-47s and put them on the roof,” Senter said. “That’s not our job. That’s not why we started to sell weed. We didn’t decide to get into cannabis to kill people. We’re here to provide medicine and improve people’s lives.”

This piece was originally published by Marijuana Moment and has been edited or modified by The News Station.

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