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Don’t Sweat the Buildings, Support the People


West Coast dispensaries respond to looting, damage stemming from protests.


No one should be mourning a building right now.

People are flocking to the streets in virtually every major U.S. city. Unofficially, their goal is to remind elected officials that black lives most definitely matter. The killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota has led to six days (and counting) of peaceful protests. In response, violent reactions from police are going viral as incidents are captured by protesters and shared widely on social media.

What’s happening in America has inevitably led to some property damage. However, there’s no time to be sad for Autozone or Macy’s or any other corporate brand you may have seen ablaze in recent days. That’s not to advocate for needless destruction but more to suggest that cleaning the graffiti off a Chase Bank may actually qualify as the dumbest possible use of one’s time at this moment.

The simple truth of the matter is that any focus directed away from what’s at stake — demands include defunding of police forces and justice for the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery, and so many others — is a mistake.

Such was the overall message from Bay Area rapper Berner, who saw one of his Los Angeles dispensaries get broken into during protests on Saturday night. In a video posted to Instagram, people can clearly be seen going into the store and taking merchandise. Berner quickly shared a post of his own in response, in which he refused to condemn the property damage.

“It’s extremely unfortunate what happened to our store tonight on Melrose,” he noted, “but as a human living in the world we’re living in today, I cannot expect anything less until justice is served. We can rebuild our store, but you cannot bring someone back to life.”

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, some dispensaries were looted over the weekend in actions reportedly separate from any nearby protest or gathering.

“On Saturday night, about five to 10 cars pulled up near Farmacy Berkeley on Sacramento Street and Alcatraz Avenue,” reports Frances Dinkelspiel of Berkeleyside. “About 30 to 40 people got out and, within minutes, they had broken the cannabis dispensary’s front door, rushed inside, smashed a number of glass display cases, and made off with edibles, tinctures and salves.”

As a target, cannabis dispensaries make sense.

On a practical level, the product is easy to convert into cash. Given many dispensaries are also located in the heart of major cities where these ongoing protests are occuring, they’re simply what’s around as well. More astutely, legal dispensaries may also be seen as a physical manifestation of disregard for those still incarcerated for cannabis crimes at this very minute. It’s impossible to know much with certainty at the moment, other than the fact that this is happening just about everywhere.

As of June 1, every dispensary in Chicago was closed indefinitely. Dispensaries across the West Coast —43 in total, according to Leafly — reported instances of damage and looting from the weekend.

One of the businesses affected was Farmacy Berkeley. Founder Sue Taylor, an African American woman, told Marijuana Business Daily that she has “three George Floyds” in reference to her own sons and the risks they face as young black men in America.

“It’s very conflicting,” Taylor said. “It’s two sides to every story. Even though I don’t agree with what they’re doing, there’s some part of me that understands as an African American.”

However, while the words of Taylor and Berner ring loudly, the escalation against legal cannabis businesses is also getting quite serious.

Debby Goldsberry, CEO for Oakland’s Magnolia Wellness, reports that “20 men with guns” took “everything” during a break-in on May 30. A noted advocate for cannabis reform and a popular figure in the Bay Area community, Goldsberry reports that Magnolia’s future is now most uncertain.

And yet, she too is willing to reframe her loss in the context of something larger.

“People say it wasn’t political and that it had nothing to do with the protests,” Goldsberry told the East Bay Express. “But I think it did. The same conditions that led to the killing of George Floyd led to this.”

What dispensary owners are demonstrating is that both empathy and selflessness will be required with regard to how the cannabis industry navigates what’s to come. Echoed in the words of Berner, Taylor, and Goldsberry is a painful recognition that the spotlight must remain firmly focused on the cause if it has any hope to succeed.

By making such a choice, the action next falls to us: to support these shops in efforts to rebuild, to give them our business, and to remember that when called upon, they spoke of justice, not blame. There will be more buildings. There will never be another George Floyd.

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