An alert store manager, watching his employees close shop via a live video feed, sent two armed robbers straight into the arms of the Seattle police Sunday night. The incident happened around 10:30 p.m. at the Have a Heart cannabis store in North Seattle’s sleepy Greenwood neighborhood. As employees were closing up for the night, two masked gunmen held the store’s security guard at gunpoint and forced their way into the store. The gunmen then used zip ties to restrain the two female employees before raiding the safe.
Store manager Damon Martinez described to Leafly the sinking feeling he felt as he watched the store’s surveillance cameras from home, which is standard procedure during closing operations at all eight Have a Heart locations in Washington state.
“Our security protocol is a staged exit, where security goes and does a perimeter check and lets the people inside know that it’s safe to exit,” Martinez said Monday morning. “On that perimeter check, he was grabbed by two guys with a gun in his back and told to go back in. He tried to tell the staff what was happening — It’s a robbery, don’t open – but they forced the door open.”
The video paints a terrifying picture of the incident, as the security guard is forced through the door with a gun at his back while a female dispensary employee drops to her knees.
“They zip-tied the workers and terrified them and put a gun in their face,” Martinez said of the robbers, who held the employees captive while they went through the store. “It was a horrible situation.”
Because Martinez was watching, however, he was able to immediately alert the Seattle Police Department.
“The police were amazing and were here within a few minutes,” Martinez said.
“I did a play-by-play for them on which rooms they were in and when they were exiting, so [officers] could be prepared to make arrests when it happened,” he explained. He then stayed on the phone with law enforcement through the entire situation, right up through the arrests. “We coordinated, and they turned off all the lights and the guys walked right into their damn hands.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “For a bad situation like this, it probably couldn’t have gone better.”
Apparently, the robbery wasn’t entirely unexpected. Thieves had entered the store at night the week before. “They broke in while we were closed and couldn’t get anything,” Martinez said.
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“I don’t know, but it was two guys last time. Maybe this time they figured they’d come in and get quite a bit more,” he added.
Martinez said the incident has served to strengthen the company and its commitment to safety and security.
“It’s good to know that we have a lot of security protocols in place. This is our security at every store, so we watch all the time,” he said. “If somebody thinks they’re going to do something, it’s not going to work. We do this stuff for a reason.”
The incident underscores problems associated with the cash-only nature of the cannabis business. Federal banking restrictions prohibit most banks from working with the cannabis industry, forcing businesses to deal almost exclusively in cash. That makes them an appealing target for thieves.
Have a Heart was fortunate enough to have stringent security measures in place, but even tight security sometimes isn’t enough.
In June, a dispensary in Aurora, Colo., experienced a similar incident: a licensed retail cannabis shop, at the end of the day, a security guard, and two men armed with guns. Sadly, there was no happy ending in Aurora. The security guard, Travis Mason, a former Marine and father of three, was fatally gunned down during the attempted robbery. The gunmen have never been found.
A Washington congressman, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck (D-Olympia), is slated to meet with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board in Olympia on Tuesday to discuss the issue of banking and the cannabis industry. Heck was critical of House Republican efforts to block an amendment that would have addressed the cannabis banking crisis as a part of the 2017 Appropriations bill in June. That measure would have prevented federal banking regulators from penalizing institutions for providing services to legal, state-licensed cannabis businesses.
In the meantime, the ordeal has shaken up the Seattle cannabis scene, and the Have a Heart family in particular. Have a Heart is one of the most prominent cannabis retailers in the state, and the company is well-known for its high-quality products and professionalism.
“Everybody’s OK,” Martinez said of the employees who survived the robbery. “They’re shook up and we’re trying to clean up and make it whole again. These people are like my own kids, they’re like my family, so it was really hard to watch. We’re working on healing up today and cleaning up our home and getting it ready.”
The Greenwood neighborhood has already come out to support the local shop in the hours since the arrests.
“This morning we’ve had probably 20 people from the community come by just to say sorry or, ‘Hope you guys are OK.’ It’s a neighborhood shop, you know? This is a family.”