With all the expensive and visually intimidating security equipment and other measures that licensed cannabis producers are required install and maintain, you wouldn’t think weed thefts would be a concern. Sun-grown and greenhouse crops are a different story, based on the tens of thousands of square feet they occupy. But indoor? To paraphrase Wu-Tang, “Indoor grow ops ain’t nothing to fuck with.”
But a new top-shelf piece by Eric Scigliano for Politico explores a high-cost series of cannabis burglaries occurring just up I-5 in Washington State, and the growers getting ripped off are pointing fingers at those they deem responsible. Not just the thieves, who have not yet been apprehended, but the very agency tasked with overseeing the state’s recreational cannabis program, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board (WLCB).
For the piece, Scigliano spoke with six commercial cannabis growers who were willing to go on the record about their combined nearly one dozen thefts. That’s just a small percentage of growers who are believed to have lost their market-ready, finished cannabis to thieves. Scigliano found that “thefts and robberies at licensed cannabis businesses in Seattle has so far turned up 54 (criminal case files) from 2016 to 2018.” Yikes. But it gets worse, as a Seattle police detective admitted that, in 2017, “Seattle Police had more than 65 reported burglaries to marijuana shops.” Mind you, these numbers don’t include grow-site ripoffs, just licensed retailers. Double yikes.
The unlucky growers were smaller “craft cannabis” producers, and their losses were steep—growers in the piece speak of stolen cannabis with values of between $52,000 and $200,000. That can be a make-or-break loss for many growers at that level. All the growers Scigliano spoke with filed police reports, but no arrests have been made in any of the cases.
After discounting theories that these were inside jobs, or connected to dispensary staff who would know when a new crop of flower would be ready for sale, the growers concluded that the thieves were getting what would be considered “insider information” about the growers from the WLCB.
Washington has strict reporting requirements for the cannabis industry, especially for growers, and a proud tradition of open government-supported access to information.
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That doesn’t really jibe with what growers both desire and need under current rules, which is a low profile. Advertising that you are growing hundreds of plants with flowers worth $2,000 a pound isn’t in a grower’s best interest. But the information required by the WLCB includes a grow site address, along with a rather comprehensive data capture and publish channel.
Scigliano writes that the rules and regulations
“require that cannabis producers and processors provide much more detailed information about their activities to the state each month than other businesses are obliged to provide—things like exactly how many plants they grow and harvest by batch and strain, how much inventory they hold and how much they sell, when, to whom, for how much. Whenever they transport product, they must file cargo manifests with detailed vehicle information. ‘We plant a seed, we report it,’ said [one grower]. ‘You take a cutting, you report it. How long you dry. What the final weight was. How soon did it go out door? What did you sell, who did you sell it to, for how much? What did they mark it up to? Easily 25 percent of our time is given over to tracking.”
By providing so much detailed information about a grow, thieves can use the information to determine when a harvest will be ready, how much is expected, and even where it’s happening.
Take the time to read Scigliano’s piece, which delves deep into the robberies, along with the traceability system in place in Washington, and where this fits to help keep the feds the fuck out of the state’s marijuana business.
And the burglaries don’t seem to be letting up. On Sunday, five thieves broke into a Kelso grow site and made off with $250,000 worth of flower.