In the wake of a spike in deadly armed robberies at cannabis retailers, Washington State officials, marijuana reform advocates, and cannabis industry stakeholders met at a roundtable event to discuss the urgency of marijuana banking reform.

In the span of four days, armed robberies took place at three separate cannabis dispensaries across the state which left three people dead. A video of a robbery in Bellevue shows two men enter a marijuana retailer before threatening the workers with guns and taking off with cash and cannabis products.

According to the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), this and the other recent robberies are just the latest in what has been a significant spike in such crimes this year.

“Thus far in 2022, reports show that there have been over 50 robberies of cannabis businesses, many of them armed, in Washington State. This surpasses the number of robberies in all of 2021,” LCB said in a press release. “The roundtable is an opportunity for state leaders, policy makers, regulators and law enforcement to hear directly from participating retailers as well as to share information that could help.”

LCB Chair David Postman headed up the roundtable, with the panelists including State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti (D), Sen. Karen Keiser (D), and the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) Michael Correia.

The group discussed the recent robberies and pinpointed the cannabis industry’s lack of access to banking and financial services due to federal cannabis prohibition as a crucial factor putting marijuana retailers at risk since they are largely forced to operate in cash.

“The tragic events of the last week and the escalation of armed robberies over the last several months have demonstrated the urgent need for Congress to act,” LCB said. “The lack of banking services has become a catalyst for a very real public safety crisis in Washington State. Due to their forced reliance on cash transactions, cannabis retailers have increasingly become targets for armed robbers.”

Pellicciotti recently led a panel at the National Association of State Treasurer (NAST) conference to discuss the prospects of federal cannabis banking reform in the shape of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and would ensure marijuana businesses could freely open bank accounts without the threat of federal intervention.

The legislation has been approved by the US House of Representatives six times, but has yet to be put to a vote in the Senate. Previous Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was hostile to the reform, while current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer insists on prioritizing comprehensive federal cannabis reform ahead of targeted efforts.

For Correia, the Senate’s delay in approving the measure is putting marijuana businesses, customers and employees at risk.

“The Senate’s inaction on banking has resulted in unnecessary and senseless violence and deaths in communities across the country, including in Washington State,” Correia, who serves as director of government relations at the NCIA, said. “Every day that Senate leadership chooses to play politics rather than provide financial services to the cannabis industry and its employees continue to provide ample opportunity for criminals to prey on these compliant, legal businesses.”

The IRS recently weighed in on the issue as well, stating that marijuana banking would enable the agency to “get paid” more easily.

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