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California Pot Businesses Must Protect Against Crime Threats

Across from where the Oakland Athletics play baseball sits a two-story concrete building painted bright orange and white. It is home to a cannabis dispensary called Blunts and Moore. A pair of inflatable “tube guys” flap on the roof to attract customers. There are signs that all is not well. Three security guards screen customers as they pass through a metal detector. One guard, a former infantryman, wears a 9-millimeter pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition strapped to his waist, the New York Times reports. “It’s crazy to think we need all this war stuff to protect our business,” said the store’s owner, Alphonso Blunt, who is known as Tucky. “But that’s where we are today.” In 2020, Blunts and Moore was ransacked by thieves with automatic weapons, incurring losses of nearly $1 million, much of which insurance would not cover. This is not what Blunt, Oakland or California had in mind for an ambitious effort to help grow a cannabis industry and provide financial opportunity to struggling neighborhoods with many Black and Hispanic residents.

The city’s social equity initiative is designed to help entrepreneurs like Blunt, who was arrested for a nonviolent cannabis offense in 2005. Blunt is among entrepreneurs in Oakland, many of whom are Black, who were granted equity licenses to run cannabis businesses after California legalized the substance for recreational use in 2016. Applicants who live in areas that had a high number of drug-related arrests or who have a cannabis-related arrest record are given priority to receive the licenses. Even as 18 states have legalized the substance for recreational use, the federal government still prohibits it. That means cannabis stores are limited in their access to federally regulated banking services, such as credit cards. Forced to deal largely in cash, the businesses can be a tantalizing target for thieves.

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