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Council approves creation of Cannabis Safety Taskforce

Summary

Legislation to create a Cannabis Safety Taskforce, sponsored by Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, on Tuesday passed out of the King County Council.

Story

Legislation to create a Cannabis Safety Taskforce, sponsored by Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, on Tuesday passed out of the King County Council.

“A dedicated Cannabis Safety Taskforce will be able to focus on keeping our local communities safe from the pattern of armed robberies targeting cannabis stores and manufacturers across the region,” Dunn said. “This legislation sends a strong message that King County plans to hold those committing these crimes responsible for their actions. I could not be more proud of this bipartisan legislation and am grateful to my colleagues for their support.”

The legislation comes in the wake of a spate of armed robberies at cannabis shops in both King County and Pierce County, including two recent attempted robberies in Covington and Factoria that both resulted in the fatal shooting of the perpetrator. According to the Washington Cannabusiness Association, roughly 70 robberies have been recorded at cannabis retailers across the state of Washington since the beginning of 2022. This uptick has been widely attributed to the publicity of cases and the fact that federal banking regulations have resulted in cannabis shops operating as all-cash businesses, making them a lucrative target.

“During and since my time in the state Legislature, I have been a staunch supporter of the legalization and regulation of the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. However, the federal banking regulations that force businesses to operate as all-cash businesses have ended up endangering employees, customers and communities,” Kohl-Welles said. “As such, this motion serves to explore how local jurisdictions can better support these businesses, while efforts to reform banking laws at the federal level remain underway. Thank you, Councilmember Dunn, for introducing this motion and bringing attention to this issue.”

The Cannabis Safety Taskforce will bring together the King County Sheriff’s Office, the King County Prosecutor’s Office, members of the cannabis industry, and local community members, tasking them with coordinating their efforts with jurisdictions across the region. The goal of this group is to identify resources necessary to aid law enforcement in the prevention of criminal activity targeting marijuana retailers; deepen interjurisdictional cooperation and data sharing; and coordinate emphasis patrols by law enforcement. The motion also requests an analysis of how the roughly $4.6 million in marijuana tax revenue that was cut from the Sheriff’s Office funding in the 2021-22 biennial budget is being used. This report is due to the Council by August 31, 2022, before consideration of the 2023-24 biennial budget.

“King County is leading the way in our state by adopting a coordinated response among law enforcement, prosecutors, regulated cannabis businesses and the broader community for responding to the current public safety crisis,” said Vicki Christophersen, WACA executive director. “We thank Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Jeanne Kohl-Welles for co-sponsoring this legislation and the full Council for adopting this critical effort. Regulated cannabis businesses stand ready to participate as partners in protecting the safety of workers and the communities in which regulated cannabis businesses operate.”

Currently, the King County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to work with the community to address security concerns and increase its presence, including through both uniformed and plain clothes officers. This has included multiagency and multijurisdictional conversations, including the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, to collaborate on finding ways to prevent further robberies.

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