Oakland cannabis dispensary owner shot in armed robbery

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

It’s far easier to legally sell pot in Oakland, California than it is to legally carry a gun in self-defense, and crooks seem to be well aware of that fact. Last year the Oakland police recorded at least 24 armed robberies of marijuana dispensaries in the city, and they continue to be a popular target for criminals, with the owner of a recently-opened dispensary becoming the latest victim on Sunday morning.

Police said that just before 4:30 a.m. a group of burglars tripped an alarm. The owner Joshua Chase received the alert and went to investigate. Police said someone shot him, wounding him in the foot.

Cannabis entrepreneur Chase also owns “Have A Heart” dispensary on Broadway, across from the police department.

“The things I’ve been hearing about here, it just makes me shake my head but also makes me very concerned,” said Oakanna customer Charles S.

The customer, who declined to provide his last name, said that for Chase to have been shot in his first week at a new cannabis shop shows how dangerous it is to operate a licensed dispensary in Oakland.

“To be concerned about, like you say, taxes on one side (and robberies), how do you make a profit? How do you survive?” Charles S. asked.

According to KPIX in San Francisco, some legal sellers of cannabis say their business is more dangerous now than before it was legalized, which actually doesn’t ring false to me. These legal dispensaries are still a cash-only business, which makes them awfully attractive to robbers, and because the dispensary owners want to stay on the right side of California’s restrictive laws, very few of them are going to run the risk of illegally carrying a gun in self-defense. The result is that dispensaries are not only a cash-rich environment, but they’re also “gun-free” zones.. at least when it comes to the law-abiding citizens who work and shop at the establishments.

That’s a problem not only in “may-issue” California, where Bay Area sheriffs are loathe to approve carry licenses for almost all applicants, but in “shall-issue” and even Constitutional Carry states as well. Last month in Tacoma, Washington, for example, a 29-year old dispensary employee named Jordan Brown was shot and killed during a robbery of the World of Weed Cannabis Dispensary. The suspects? 16-year old Montrell Hatfield and 15-year old Marshon Jones.

On Wednesday, Hatfield pled not guilty to first-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Although he is a minor, Hatfield will be charged as an adult for these crimes.

Hatfield’s bail was set at $3 million.

“[Hatfield] made no effort to turn himself in. He’s already violated court orders in the King County cases by cutting off his ankle monitor,” said Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Wagner. “The fact that he’s been identified in a recent armed robbery shows how little regard he has for court orders and the lives of other people in this county. I think the only way to keep the county safe is to keep him in custody.”

That’s the appropriate action in that particular case, but the broader issue remains. As long as cannabis dispensaries are operating in a gray zone where they’re legal and regulated at the state level but still prohibited under federal law (and marijuana use is a disqualifying factor for legal gun owners), they’re going to remain attractive targets for violent criminals. It’s high time (no pun intended) for lawmakers to address the glaring problems with the status quo and to ensure that the retail employees of pot shops (and their customers too, frankly) can lawfully protect themselves while on the job.