McCune’s pot-shop protection bill would address wave of violent crime at Washington cannabis retailers

State Sen. Jim McCune says it’s past time for the Legislature to address one of the more blatant signs of the escalating lawlessness in Washington: the growing epidemic of costly and even deadly crimes at marijuana retailers.

The Pierce County lawmaker has introduced a measure intended to protect the state’s 1,000-plus cannabis retailers, which have been the targets of violent robberies, smash and grabs, assaults and other crimes.

“Cannabis shops are located all over in our communities, and they have really become a magnet for an unprecedented level of criminal activities,” said McCune, R-Graham, who serves on the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee.

“Criminals know these are primarily cash-only businesses, which makes them easy targets. Whole safes have been hauled away. Employees have been pistol-whipped or shot – some even killed. And customers and neighbors have been traumatized.

“Failing to get this problem under control affects everyone in the community and creates a dangerous environment of chaos and lawlessness.”

According to Washington’s Craft Cannabis Coalition, robberies at pot shops spiked in 2022, with more than 100 incidents reported, as well as the first death of an employee during a break-in. The robberies became more brazen in 2023, with the rise of the “Kia Boys” – juveniles and young adults inspired by internet trends and weak Washington police-pursuit laws, who are committing auto theft, assault, robberies and a host of other crimes.

“The Kia Boys and similar criminals steal cars – often Kias – and use those vehicles to smash into storefronts, take what they can, and then quickly flee in another stolen vehicle,” McCune explained. “They are doing thousands of dollars in damage and putting lives at risk, for what often turns out to be a relatively small amount of merchandise and cash. And they are hitting multiple locations each time they go out.

“Some of the retailers have been hit five, seven, even eight times, to the point where it is almost becoming routine. Some don’t even bother to report these incidents anymore, which means we don’t even know how bad the problem really is.”

Senate Bill 6133, McCune’s measure to address the growing public-safety concern, would increase penalties for those who use a car to cause damage or gain entry to a retailer to commit a crime. Robbery 1 is a class A felony and robbery 2 is a class B felony. Should McCune’s bill become law and someone used a car to do a smash and grab at cannabis store, prosecutors could charge them with either robbery 1 or 2, and then also prove the new “special allegation” to seek additional time added on to the sentence.

The measure would also assist the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to maintain statistics on pot-shop break-ins by requiring cannabis retailers to report robberies to the board within 10 days, and tasking the Washington State Patrol with regularly consulting with the LCB’s chief enforcement officer.

“Whether people like it or not, cannabis stores have been legal in Washington for nearly a decade, and the state is bringing in nearly half a billion dollars a year in tax revenue from this product,” said McCune.

“If the state is going to profit from having a legal cannabis industry, it should also do everything possible to protect workers, customers and the community from criminal activity at cannabis retailers.”

SB 6133 has been referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which has until Jan. 31 to consider the bill.