Legislators in the state of Washington are currently entertaining legislation that would ostensibly be tougher on robbers who target cannabis pharmacies. Among other provisions, the bill seeks to add an extra 12 months to a convicted robber’s prison sentence. The goal is to further deter anyone considering holding up a cannabis pharmacy.
Will it work? The only way to know is for legislators to pass the bill and send it to the Governor for a signature. Lawmakers may have no other choice, given the fact that dozens of pharmacy robberies have already occurred since the first of the year. Some of the lawmakers behind the bill expect the number to keep climbing.
All Cash Enterprises
Proponents of the bill say pharmacy owners have been subjected to an increasing number of robberies in recent months. They say the main impetus is the fact that cannabis pharmacies are all-cash enterprises. That makes sense.
State Senator Jim Honeyford is the bill’s primary Senate sponsor. He told KING 5 that robbers have an incentive to target cannabis pharmacies the same way legendary bank robber Willie Sutton was incentivized to target banks. As Honeyford explained, Sutton admitted to going after banks because “that’s where the money is.”
Cannabis pharmacies are forced to run cash-and-carry businesses because banking regulations prevent them from obtaining traditional financial services through banks and credit unions. Without the ability to accept credit and debit cards, their only choice is to take cash. Even depositing that cash can prove problematic for some pharmacy owners.
An Industry-Wide Problem
Washington state lawmakers are looking to get tougher on pharmacy robbers after identifying a problem they believe is growing. But the problem is not limited to Washington alone. It is an industry-wide problem that really only has one solution: fixing the problems created by federal banking regulations.
In Utah, for example, dispensaries run on the cash-and-carry principle. But now that the state has approved home delivery, a limited number of companies are starting to work with medical cannabis pharmacies to arrange for electronic payments made online.
Utahmarijuana.org says that the state’s pharmacies are still largely cash based but that electronic payments are making some headway. The sooner electronic payments become the norm, the safer it will be for delivery drivers working throughout the Beehive State.
Federal Banking Legislation
In the meantime, lawmakers in the nation’s capital have been working on banking legislation that would free up financial institutions to serve cannabis-based businesses. The legislation has a lot of lawmaker promises attached to it. So far though, Congress has not been able to get something to the president’s desk.
It is possible that banking reform could get pushed through later in 2022. It is equally possible that one of two competing pieces of legislation will decriminalize marijuana altogether. If that happens, the regulations that currently keep banks out of the cannabis industry would be moot. Such legislation could kill multiple birds with one proverbial stone.
In the meantime, pharmacy and dispensary owners are pretty much left to fend for themselves. Suggestions for preventing robberies include hiring armed security guards, depositing cash multiple times per day, locking up any cash that does remain on-site, and posting signs explaining that staff does not have access to large amounts of cash.
As for imposing a stiffer sentence on pharmacy robbers, it will only work if the sentence is stiff enough and the legal system is willing to enforce it. Therein lies the general weakness of the U.S. legal system. It is one thing to write tough laws. It is another thing to actually enforce them.