Santa Rosa Police Department and cannabis companies discuss security concerns

March 16, 2023
In the evolving world of legalized weed, local law enforcement is fully committed to protecting cannabis farms, distribution sites and retail dispensaries

Feb. 3, 2023—Nearly 40 minutes into a community meeting on making cannabis-related businesses more secure, Yarrow Kubrin added a moment of poignant levity.

"Twenty-five years ago you arrested me for cannabis," Kubrin said, turning in his seat to face Sonoma County District Attorney's Office chief investigator Rich Celli, "and now we're sitting in the same room figuring out how to make regulated cannabis safer."

Kubrin, who describes himself as a social equity advocate and cannabis real estate expert, elaborated on the connection in a Friday interview.

"I was his first bust," he said of Celli. "I was in my early 20s. To see him 25 years later and to be on the same side of an issue is a vignette around how we as a country, and we as a county, have moved forward in our relationship to cannabis. And the notion that it's no longer something inherently bad."

That message was amplified by Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan, police Capt. Dan Marincik, District Attorney Carla Rodriguez and others at a 90-minute gathering Thursday that was part instructional seminar, part airing of grievances and part marketing opportunity for several participating security firms.

All insisted that in the evolving world of legalized weed, local law enforcement is fully committed to protecting cannabis farms, distribution sites and retail dispensaries. But faced with staffing shortages and legal limitations, officials said, there is only so much they can do. Ultimately, it is up to business owners to harden their establishments and offer information to the cops.

The meeting, requested by cannabis industry stakeholders, came in response to a string of recent marijuana burglaries and armed robberies — at least eight in Sonoma County between early December and late January. Two occurred on consecutive nights, Jan. 17-18, at dispensaries in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

While declining to offer details on the investigation, Cregan said there is reason to believe many of the incidents are related.

"The intel is showing us there are connections," Cregan said. "We are seeing that with some of the vehicles being involved, some of the descriptions of the suspects and even their method of operations of how they are breaking into these businesses."

Joshua Hawkins-Butler, 29, of Oakland; David Hill III, 18, of San Pablo; and Shawtanique Blocker, 31, of Oakland were arrested in Novato after a police pursuit following the Jan. 18 dispensary break-in in Petaluma.

About 40 people attended Thursday's public meeting at the city's Facilities Operations Building on Stony Point Road.

Marincik preemptively addressed one nagging question before anyone had a chance to ask, assuring the cannabis entrepreneurs that SRPD doesn't distinguish their industry and others when responding to service calls. In fact, he said, officers responded to the recent burglaries more quickly than is typical.

Marincik said incident logs for five recent burglaries revealed response times of between 3-6 minutes. The average SRPD response over the most recent month of data, supplied to The Press Democrat by Cregan, was 7 minutes, and 8 seconds for Priority 1 calls and 11:21 for Priority 2 calls — the status that would be assigned to a nonviolent property break-in. That does not include the time it takes a private alarm company to relay an alert to Santa Rosa emergency dispatch.

The weed purveyors had other questions for officers and prosecutors.

One attendee asked if SRPD encrypts its radio communications, to prevent perpetrators from listening on a scanner. The answer was no, due to state regulations. Douglas Freitas of the SOG Army cultivation and distribution facility asked if the police would seek a warrant if a business placed electronic devices to track a stolen product. That answer was maybe if the information could be corroborated.

Heather Liebman, sales director for NewTropic, a company that facilitates the cannabis supply chain, wondered if the state was assigned a task force to the Sonoma County crimes. Not as of now, she was told.

While insisting their department and other county agencies are committed to supporting these business owners, Cregan and Marincik emphasized their limitations.

There are no assigned cannabis detectives at SRPD. Instead, crimes in the industry fall to the property crimes division, which has four detectives who investigate a broad range of cases, including financial elder abuse. And as Cregan has said previously, his force has shrunk — from 190 sworn officers in 2006 to 181 now — while calls for service are on the rise.

The cops also noted a marked lack of cooperation on the state level. Though the cannabis industry is heavily taxed, SRPD gets no money directly from those taxes, Cregan said. And communication to the department from the state Department of Cannabis Control, which requests burglary reports from dispensary owners, has been "minimal to nonexistent," according to Marincik.

In light of such constraints, police and private security representatives urged the business owners to take precautions. Some of the advice was obvious, like mounting surveillance cameras and adding interior barriers to existing exterior barriers. The private firms pitched the idea of paying for independent risk assessments.

There were more sophisticated ideas floated, too, such as adding digital trackers to randomized weed products and contracting for remote guarding, which involves personnel watching video feeds and calling the police immediately if a crime is being committed.

A lot of it boiled down to situational awareness.

"If you're being hit, they're not just coming to your store that night," said Celli, the D.A. investigator. "They've planned this event out. They've cased your building. They've looked online at your photo galleries to go, 'All right, I see windows, I don't see bars. I don't see a backroom. I don't see a safe in there.' They're sending people into your businesses that aren't committing these acts. They're just looking for it."

Kubrin, who has weathered the transition from the illegal cannabis trade to the legal, calls himself a natural skeptic. But he had mostly positive things to say about what he heard Thursday afternoon.

"Five years ago, the Sheriff's Department was not distinguishing between crimes committed against regulated cannabis and those committed against unregulated cannabis," Kubrin said. "It's important to recognize that the recent rash of robberies relative to the sheer amount of cannabis businesses in this area, and the number of cannabis transactions over the past five years is alarming and needs to be solved — but the new string of robberies is atypical."

(Note: This story was edited after publication to reflect that SOG Army is an indoor cultivation and distribution facility.)

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

(c)2023 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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