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Oakland Cannabis Retailers Say They're Under Siege From Violent Thefts

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- Oakland's cannabis businesses want more police protection after two workers were shot, one fatally, and industry advocates say that police are starting to step up but need to do more.

One employee was killed and another wounded late Friday night inside a business in the 500 block of Julie Ann Way, near I-880 northwest of the Oakland Coliseum.

Video posted to Instagram showed a group of people leaving work when, suddenly, a man chases the group back inside and opens fire. One woman died. A man was wounded.

"It was a straight volley -- bam, bam, bam, bam, bam," a witness told KPIX. "It's sad. There's no decency."

Oakland police have not released more details about the shooting and the Alameda County medical examiner has not released the deceased victim's name.

Her employer declined to comment.

"It's unfathomable ... it makes people in an industry that's already on edge over the edge at this point," said Ersie Joyner, a former Oakland police captain who is now a security consultant for several cannabis-related businesses in Oakland.

Joyner showed KPIX video of a business that was looted in late May following the George Floyd protests. The surveillance video shows marijuana hung up to dry as part of the cultivation process. Suddenly, about a dozen looters rush in and begin taking the product. Joyner says caravans of looters hit a bunch of the cannabis businesses all at once over about a five-day period.

"Individuals came in, stole product, some locations lost upwards of a million dollars worth of product," Joyner said.

Debby Goldsberry, with an Oakland dispensary called Magnolia Wellness Collective said looters wiped out her business. She's now closed until further notice.

"We lost everything," she said. "It really feels like the cannabis industry in Oakland is under attack. We have had at least -- from what I've tracked -- at least 40 break-ins at cannabis facilities since May 31. I think there's only 150-200 facilities so it's a huge problem."

Cannabis businesses are already vulnerable because federal laws prevent them from using banks so there is a lot of cash on hand.

They also compete with a surge in black market dispensaries which are able to charge less because they don't pay taxes.

Last year, of the more than $11 billion dollars worth of marijuana sold in California, two-thirds of it was sold illegally, according to New Frontier Data, a firm that tracks marijuana sales.

Meanwhile, the legal businesses pay a very large tax bill -- up to 35 percent to the city of Oakland so the business owners believe they should be better protected.

"We've been trying to work with the city to investigate the crimes, to prevent the crimes to respond to the crimes," Goldsberry said. "We just have not been able to make headway. Now we see that the result of that is a murder the other night."

"We just need a comprehensive, coordinated strategy on cannabis business crime," said James Anthony, chair of Oakland Citizens for Equity and Prosperity, a trade association that represents cannabis businesses in Oakland.

Oakland police point out that there were 200 calls for looting over several days following the protests and the victims were not just cannabis companies. The OPD has a cannabis unit with one officer assigned to it, officer John Romero, who told KPIX he has been working with owners to set up an alert system so businesses can know when there have been crimes against other cannabis businesses.

Oakland police have no mechanism to report cannabis-related crimes, which means there's no efficient way to track them. Romero said the department is working to get such a system in place.

The cannabis business owners say they want more officers in the cannabis unit and a better plan.

"With all the tax money paid to the city, there is not one strategy in place," Joyner said. "To not have a response from law enforcement on many instances -- not just this last protest but many instances throughout the year -- is unacceptable. And we demand a change."

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