Is Dispensary Work Dangerous?

Dispensary robberies are on the rise, and budtenders have every right to be cautious.
Dispensary robberies are on the rise, and budtenders have every right to be cautious. /

The cannabis industry wants America excited about its potential to create hundreds of thousands of new, high-paying jobs across the country. Among these modern vocations, the budtender position is arguably the most popular. And it's relatively easy work to get. 

These positions, where the duties involve selling marijuana to the consumer, are often advertised to recruit just about anyone looking to get a foot in the door of the cannabis industry. 

No experience necessary. Learn on the job. Lots of advancement opportunities and the occasional armed thug ready to blast you full of holes to get away with money, weed or your life. 

Okay, maybe they don't mention the last part, but they should! It seems like every time I turn around, there's news of a dispensary worker being savagely beaten or killed at the hands of a violent criminal.

Dispensary Security Amidst Rising Robberies

There's been a surge of robberies lately in cannabis dispensaries throughout the United States. Workers have been pistol-whipped, shot, and killed by marauders on a seek-and-destroy mission to empty the cash register. 

"The number of these robberies is shocking," David Postman, the chairman of the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board, recently told NPR. And while hiring extra heavy guards sounds like a viable solution, that gets expensive. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to hire round-the-clock, armed security teams to keep the riffraff out of a dispensary.

But many still spend it.

"Everything about our store is set up for safety, from location (we are located right across the street from the police station) to the well-trained armed guards on duty, the well-trained staff to check IDs, to the cameras watching all action within the store and outside, and an overall security system that allows for quick contact with police," Whitney Beatty, CEO at the Los Angeles dispensary Josephine & Billie's, told The Bluntness

"We also watch our store capacity to make sure we can always keep an eye on all activities. Our employee safety is always our number one priority."

Not every dispensary is as vigilant. To keep the overall operating cost down, many lower-budget weed-slinging operations try to squeeze by with the bare minimum – employing security cameras and a guard during business hours. Maybe they ask their workers to say a prayer every morning before opening the doors. 

A dispensary in Tacoma, Washington called Mary Mart, for example, only hired an armed security guard after being robbed twice in four months. 

Some budtenders claim the dispensary environment doesn't have to go to the extreme of robberies or gun violence to get scary. "Even if you never have a robber come in, there are still many times where you have to be ‘at the ready’ if any craziness happens," Julia, a former budtender, told The Bluntness

"What happens frequently is street people come in to buy, and some suffer from mental illness, so they have lost their temper for whatever reason. Their brand wasn't in stock, or they couldn't afford what they came in to buy and leave angry and empty-handed." 

Still, even with unhinged society stopping in occasionally, Julia still doesn't believe dispensary work is unsafe. 

"I don't think it's that dangerous if you are prepared," she said.

The SAFE Banking Act: Manage Your Expectations

The cannabis industry believes, or at least they want the powers-that-be to think, there would be less of these violent crimes associated with dispensaries if Congress just passed the gosh darn SAFE Banking Act, allowing weed businesses to have bank accounts like any other legitimate business. 

What they fail to admit, however, is that the banking bill won't offer a solution against dispensary violence. Despite alcohol being legal at the federal level, allowing liquor stores to accept credit cards, make bank deposits, and everything else, thousands still get robbed every year. And sometimes, unfortunately, the clerk is the recipient of the brunt of this aggression. 

The same is true of gas stations and convenience stores. It's not always the cash they’re after. In the case of a dispensary, some crooks are interested in getting their hands on the weed, which can be easily turned into cash on the black market. 

Most legal states are still having a problem taming the illicit pot trade. Dispensaries can sell as much weed as they want through a credit card machine, Stripe, or whatever, and the criminals will still find a way to profit.

Beatty doesn't believe SAFE would stop all crime. However, she thinks it might destroy the myth that all dispensaries are sitting on a lot of cash.

"Most often, you would make more money by robbing a convenience store than a small dispensary — because they get a bigger volume of customers," she said. "And while people often spend cash at convenience stores because of the small dollar-amount purchases they make, I think the larger sales at dispensaries are ideal for credit/debit transactions and could lower our risk."

Don’t Work for Dispensaries that Fumble Security

So, is working at a cannabis dispensary dangerous? 

It definitely comes with risks, but it is likely no more hazardous than manning the till of a liquor or convenience store. In some ways, dispensary work might even be safer. Operations that take their security seriously as opposed to those waiting until a string of robberies turn the staff into a bunch of nervous victims aren't likely to become hard targets for criminals looking for an easy score. 

That said, individuals looking to get into dispensary work should only consider operations where the security of the staff is paramount. Don't be afraid to ask the person interviewing you for a job what measures are taken to ensure that workers remain safe while on the clock. 

If they don't offer much more protection than cameras, go somewhere else. Having video footage to help identify a robber is good, but at what expense if a family member gets called down to the local morgue to identify your body?

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