Astonishing string of crimes hits dozens of dispensaries

Over the weekend, one or more large groups of armed men targeted and robbed a long list of Bay Area cannabis dispensaries in what looks to most observers like a long-planned spree. Remarkably, most of the dispensaries in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland seem to have been hit, reportedly along with some manufacturing and cultivation facilities. A couple of sources said that every single pot retailer in Oakland was targeted, although that couldn’t be confirmed at press time.

The Oakland dispensary ECO Cannabis has a side business, EC Security, which serves mostly ECO itself, protecting its dispensary as well as its East Oakland cultivation and manufacturing facilities. The company’s website features a large photo of a bunch of bad-ass-looking dudes holding assault rifles, along with a bad-ass-looking German Shepherd. Whoever knocked off ECO Cannabis on Friday night either didn’t know about those dudes and that dog—or simply weren’t intimidated by them.

When CEO Kevin Aheasy got the alarm, “we called the cops, and we called our security guys,” he said. The security guys got there first, shuttling over from East Oakland within 15 minutes. But it was too late. “There wasn’t a lot of vandalism, but they got product and cash,” Aheasy said.

In a way, ECO was one of the lucky ones. Harborside in Oakland was hit three separate times. Magnolia Wellness, also in Oakland, was hit twice.

The astonishing string of crimes occurred while Oakland and cities across the country were under siege by protests, riots and looting. Shops in Sacramento and in Southern California were hit, as well as others across the country. It’s not yet known whether any of the sprees in other locales are related to the ones in the Bay Area, which most observers think were carried out by the same people in dozens of locations.

One of the worst-hit victims in the East Bay was Oakland’s Magnolia Wellness. “20 men with guns,” CEO Debby Goldsberry said on Sunday. “We lost everything.”

Well, almost everything. On Sunday night, the shop was hit again. It wasn’t clear as of Monday whether the same people were responsible for both crimes. They didn’t get much on Sunday night, since there wasn’t much left to take. But the shop’s windows were broken out. So much for security glass.

On Monday, Goldsberry was shell-shocked, and uncertain of Magnolia’s future. “We’re a mom-and-pop shop,” she said. “We have no nest-egg. We have no Canadian backers or Big Cannabis money.”

Goldsberry, like some other victims, said that while the crimes seemed well-planned, the perpetrators didn’t seem so bright. Cameras in some shops, including Magnolia, registered their faces and the license plates of their vehicles. A security agent was on hand during the first break-in, but fled the scene upon seeing how many armed men were entering the shop. They seemed to be having fun, she said. “They danced on the desks before flipping them over.” They also shot the place up, and made off with computers and other electronic equipment.

Nonetheless, Goldsberry managed to find some empathy for her victimizers. “People say it wasn’t political and that it had nothing to do with the protests,” she said. “But I think it did. The same conditions that led to the killing of George Floyd led to this.” That is: a system that marginalizes, and even kills, Black folks. “Some of these guys maybe sold cannabis their whole lives” before legalization, she said.

Dona Ruth Frank of Oakland Organics on Shattuck Avenue said some of the blame lies with the Bureau of Cannabis Control, which had published the names and locations of all of the state’s legal licensees on its website. “I have no love for the BCC,” Frank said. On Monday, the United Cannabis Business Association, which represents dispensaries, announced that the BCC had disabled the license-search function.

There also were reports that some cultivators and manufacturers had also been hit. Those reports could not be independently confirmed by Monday night, but Aheasy said that he knew of two East Oakland cultivation sites that were targeted.

MedMen, the national dispensary chain that has stirred controversy even as its business prospects have dimmed, announced that it would close all of its stores temporarily until the unrest passes. Three of its Los Angeles shops were hit over the weekend.

Goldsberry had an ominous message on Monday for her colleagues across the Bay Area: “I fully expect them to come back tonight,” she said.