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Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter are reshaping America. How will cannabis retailers rebuild?

June 25, 2020   4:10 pm PDT | Updated 2 weeks ago

Dozens of cannabis shops across the country have suffered a one-two punch. First COVID-19 forced many to close down and then came the damage from what most owners have cited as people taking advantage of the recent protests against police brutality.

Boston-based Pure Oasis, the first adult-use, Black-owned cannabis shop in Boston, originally opened on March 9, 2020.

Two weeks later it closed for two months due to COVID-19 then reopened on May 25, the same day George Floyd was killed by the police in Minneapolis. Less than a week later the shop was ransacked by looters who made off with nearly $100,000 in cannabis and other products on June 1.

“They didn't destroy the property, like other shops, they were just after the weed and they took it all,” said Kobie Evans, who owns Pure Oasis with comedian Kevin Hart.  “The robbery occurred at 1:40 in the morning, well after the streets were cleared of protestors and the police were elsewhere.”

Pure Oasis, which opened as part of Massachusetts' social equity program, is one of the few dispensaries to employ people with prior drug convictions.

“Our shop, after all, was created as a solution model to address discriminatory police policies in drug enforcement, and we've got a long way to go,” Evans said. “Naturally we stand in solidarity with the protests against police brutality in Minneapolis and around the nation.”

Pure Oasis was lucky enough to open the very next day after the looting occurred, thanks to the generosity of the cannabis community.

“People started calling right away and offering their help – a pound of weed here, a few pre-rolls there. It was amazing. Folks in the cannabis community seem to embrace each other,” Kobie said.

'We can rebuild our store, but you can't bring someone back to life...'

Two other dispensaries outside Boston were also looted and not all cannabis shops have been as fortunate as Pure Oasis.

In California, among the Los Angeles-area dispensaries vandalized was Cookies on Melrose, which is co-owned by rapper and weed entrepreneur Berner. 

Shortly after his shop was robbed, Berner released a video in which he made it clear that he was more concerned about the injustices being highlighted by protestors than stolen cannabis merchandise. “I can't expect anything less until justice is served.

“We can rebuild our store, but you can't bring someone back to life…we stand with what's going on in the world. A statement needed to be made,” Berner said in the video.

MedMen temporarily closed all of its locations, according to Marijuana Moment, after several of its Los Angeles stores were totally cleaned out. 

In the Midwest, the Chicago Sun Times reported that the city's Mission Dispensary South Shore was destroyed and three others were targeted.

Kris Krane, Mission's president, said the shop's staff, 90% of whom are people of color, closed the dispensary when they saw that neighboring stores were starting to be ransacked.

He and his team got out safely minutes before it was “targeted by 40 to 50 men and women, some armed. Everything of value was taken, and the store was mostly destroyed,” Krane wrote on Facebook.

“Despite the sadness and destruction, my support for the protests and the underlying goal of ending police brutality, systemic law enforcement reform, and societal recognition of the fundamental humanity of people of color in this country remains undeterred,” Krane wrote.

Shops in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Ohio, and Oregon were ransacked or robbed, according to THCNet.

“What's happening is that the protests were so huge that looters insulated themselves within those large groups,” said Eugenio Garcia, founder & CEO of online publication Cannabis Now. He opened the Cannabis Now CBD shop in Los Angeles in May 2019. A year later the shop was ransacked and robbed of nearly $100,000 worth of products.

“It was very difficult to watch how criminals embedded themselves with the peaceful demonstrators who are seeking justice and an end to the murder and police harassment of African-Americans,” he said.

Garcia arrived at his shop after reports of looting. He said he was then physically threatened and assaulted when he couldn't remember the combination to the safe. Once he escaped from the 15 or so looters, it was heartrending to watch, via the store's cameras, as his shop got torn apart.

“For the entire decade since our publication began, Cannabis Now has been all about building an all-inclusive community knowing full well that Blacks and Latinos, of which I am one, are constantly and indiscriminately targeted by law enforcement for weed violations. We also know that racial injustice has been a part of this society forever,” Garcia said. “Still, our efforts to help change all that are as strong as ever.”

And now the efforts to rebuild

Many, like Cannabis Now's shop, have opened their own GoFundMe pages to raise money for reopening.

The owners of hemp farm and retailer The Botanical Joint are hosting a GoFundMe fundraiser for Black-owned CBD and cannabis companies that they've worked with in the past.  

Most cannabis businesses are unable to purchase insurance coverage on their property or protection against robbery. Hence, the GoFundMe campaigns.

This, in addition to a lack of access to banking and financial institutions, has kept cannabis businesses in a consistently vulnerable situation for years. Even credit card companies such as Mastercard and Visa refuse to code cannabis sales, forcing dispensaries and cannabis events to operate on a cash-only basis.

Cannabis dispensaries across the country suffered significant losses from which they may not recover. Most owners vowed to rebuild. The question now is how.


Featured image by Josh Chapman