PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board is listening to cannabis store owners as they experience an uptick in robberies.

During a March 29 virtual roundtable discussion with more than 200 tuning in, including representatives from the National Cannabis Industry Association and state lawmakers, board chair David Postman said there have been more than 70 robberies of cannabis stores in Washington state this year so far.

“I think everybody on this meeting now knows that crisis has left in its wake tragic deaths and business owners and their employees are fearful that they could be next, and struggling on how to protect employees, customers, the community, law enforcement, when they’re being forced to do business in cash,” said Postman at the meeting.

One store owner advocated for increased robbery legislation at the state level to increase the penalties for robbers of cannabis stores along with re-enabling funding for police.

In an announcement to the public, Postman said a key message the board took away from retails was to “not wait to act until our plans are perfect.” The board says it has since been working on solutions available in response to the feedback.

Retailers’ session with law enforcement

Earlier this month, the board’s enforcement and education director held a licensee’s-only virtual session with law enforcement to discuss “best practices” for safe operations due to the crime surge. The board said presenters from police departments across the state were in attendance.

Crime prevention

Board officials say they’re working to see if they can issue a contract for “in-person crime prevention training.”

Cashless options

According to the WSLCB, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office convened a meeting with financial industry representatives and retailers with state officials to discuss cashless options for store owners.

The Department of Financial Institutions, said the board, is creating a website that lists third-party businesses that provide cashless options to retailers.

“The next step being considered is a larger meeting with retailers statewide to more fully explain available options and what else could be done under current federal restrictions,” added the announcement.

SAFE Banking Act

Federally, the SAFE Banking Act was also brought up during the March 29 meeting.

The bill would prohibit a federal banking regulator from penalizing a “depository institution” – such a commercial bank or credit union – for providing banking services to a legitimate cannabis-related business.

In an announcement and the meeting, the board showed support for the bill.

Postman said he and others met with staff from Washington Sen. Patty Murray’s office earlier this month. The staff assured Postman that Murray remains a loyal advocate of the bill, he added.

“It makes absolutely no sense that legal cannabis businesses are being forced to operate entirely in cash,” said Murray in a statement on April 20. “It’s dangerous — and sometimes even fatal — for the employees behind the register, but this situation is also completely preventable.”

The senator noted that she’s working with her Republican colleagues to move the legislation forward.

WSLCB said the concern is that those pushing for a national legalization bill are reluctant to pass SAFE without the bigger bill. They say they don’t want to continue to advance the current cannabis industries around the country before national legislation is in place with criminal justice reform and a mandate for a more equitable system, according to the announcement.

Potential legislation

Inslee and Washington State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti and others will be issuing a letter to Congress, said Postman.

A small group of agency and governor’s office staff will also be meeting to discuss possible legislation to help licensees, he added. Those conversations will include discussion of the idea of a tax credit for licensees who make safety improvements to operations.

Workplace safety

WSLCB staff met with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries to discuss worker safety and the role of the department as it relates to workplace safety.

The board said it hopes to continue working with industry members to move forward with solutions.