Licensed cannabis businesses in Oakland are being robbed and burglarized, jeopardizing the safety of employees and prompting those businesses to think about leaving the city, according to a security consultant and a chief financial officer of a local cannabis business.

An East Oakland cannabis business owned by DNA Genetics has been broken into three to four times in the past 18 to 24 months, the owners said. On one night alone thieves came back six times.

The night they came six times they were carrying guns and put a child and others at risk, too. Up to 20 people came at them with guns with extended clips, according to Sean Paige, the director of cultivation at DNA Genetics, which operates subsidiaries in California and Amsterdam.

John Walpuk, chief financial officer of DNA Genetics, thinks the city should explore a long-term, public-private partnership to protect cannabis businesses.

That partnership should not necessarily involve more police or guards, who would be just part of a solution, he said.

Security not the total answer

“Guards won’t solve this problem,” said security consultant Chris Eggers, a former police officer for both Oakland and San Francisco.

“That’s just one piece of the security issue,” he said. “They don’t have the ability to solve this problem long-term.”

Paige agrees that guards are not the answer, since most guards are not ready to get into a gunfight at a cannabis dispensary or legal grow, he said.

Guards that might be ready for a gunfight would cost upwards of $300,000 per year to hire as well, he said. Not only that, but any exchange of gunfire would put people and families in nearby homes at risk.

The city of Oakland has accepted $9.9 million in grant money from the California Department of Cannabis Control and both Eggers and Walpuk want to see the money used to curb these crimes.

Walpuk said that the survey about cannabis business security on the city’s website is an “absolute infuriating joke” and an “insult to operators.”

Anyone can fill it out, Eggers added, so the data is not reliable.

Oakland has earmarked $1.7 million of the $9.9 million “to help cannabis businesses meet security requirements,” said Harry Hamilton, a city spokesperson. He did not elaborate.

Workshops planned

The city also received $5.4 million in grant money from the state “and a portion will be used to provide a series of security workshops for cannabis businesses,” Hamilton said.

“City staff continue to research ways to support security enhancements at cannabis businesses,” he said.

It is not clear if that will be enough for Paige and Walpuk, whose business lost $200,000 of biomass in a recent theft. Insurance is covering less than 10 cents on the dollar of that, Walpuk said.

Paige and Walpuk are also frustrated with the police response after a crime has been committed. Patrols are not what they need to be, Paige said, and the police are not taking fingerprints or reaching out after a theft.

Officers are just taking a report, he said.

DNA Genetics is not the only business with security concerns.

Chen Wang, managing member of Kwiki Bud, a non-storefront cannabis retailer, is also concerned because of the increase in crime in Oakland. He said he would like to see a greater police presence and quicker response.

Police did not respond to a request for data on the number of burglaries and robberies of cannabis businesses over the past two years.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.