Getty Images

Thousands of dollars of pot have been stolen from a West Seattle pot shop after burglars used an ax to break into the business on three separate occasions over the past week, according to Seattle Police Department police reports.

The string of burglaries at Canna West appear to fit into very neat pattern: The burglars allegedly used an ax to break into the front door of the business in the very early morning hours and proceeded to grab as many pot products as they could before running away. And, according to other Seattle-area dispensary owners, this appears to be fitting into a broader pattern of dispensaries being targeted.

First, some details from Canna West’s break-ins: SPD received a call from a neighbor of Canna West at around 3:18 a.m. Monday morning, stating that three black men in their 20s were running away from the dispensary carrying bags, according to SPD Detective Mark Jamieson. SPD responded with a K9 unit but was unable to locate the suspects.

That break-in came less than 24 hours after a separate incident on Sunday morning, when a neighbor called police just before 4 a.m. after they heard a loud smashing noise and looked outside to see three men “breaking into the front glass door with axes,” according to a SPD police report. SPD responded but was unable to track down the suspects on Sunday morning.

SPD reviewed surveillance footage from the store and saw that the three men used axes to smash a hole in the glass door, crawl through and then then “grab numerous items off the shelves and then leave the store” just two minutes after breaking in.

Two days earlier, Canna West’s owner Maryam Mirnateghi called SPD to report that her dispensary had been broken into earlier in the week, also by three men using axes. Mirnateghi told police that at about 1:34 a.m. on Monday three men used axes to break into the front door and proceeded to steal about 300 packages of cannabis, mostly grabbing flower products instead of edibles, according to a police report. Mirnateghi told police the items had a retail value of about $4,000.

Jamieson couldn’t tell me if they had any suspects in the burglaries, saying only that it is “an active and ongoing investigation,” but based on the police reports there may be some leads. After the first incident Mirnateghi told police she may have recognized some of the men. And about an hour before the Sunday break-in, an unrelated call came into police reporting a suspicious vehicle in Beacon Hill that three men allegedly got into with an ax and a possible rifle, according to a police report.

Mirnateghi declined to answer any questions about the break-ins, saying, “I think there’s some ongoing investigation and I don’t feel comfortable talking about it yet. I think it’s probably best I lay low and not say anything.”

Mirnateghi isn’t the only cannabis retailer in the city that has been struck by burglaries lately. Oscar Velasco-Schmitz, an owner of Dockside Cannabis and adjunct board member of the trade group Cannabis Alliance, said weed retailers in Seattle have seen a sharp increase in break-ins since late spring.

“There have been a rash of break-ins in the Seattle area and we have spoken to law enforcement about it and they seem to think it’s the same group but they don’t have any leads on who it is,” Velasco-Schmitz said, adding that the burglaries are very similar to three burglaries at Canna West this past week.

“It’s typically smash and grab, they come in and grab what they can and get it out. It seems like they know what they are doing because the break-ins are right at 4 a.m. in the morning which is right when the shift change happens at the precinct,” Velasco-Schmitz said.

One of the more notable break-ins happened in Bellevue when burglars used a car to plow into a pot shop and grab a bunch of products this past July.

There’s a popular conception that pot shops are filled with cash because they supposedly don’t have bank accounts, but the majority of pot businesses in Washington actually do have bank accounts with local credit unions. Velasco-Shmitz said most dispensaries only carry enough cash to cover run their registers. He said the Cannabis Alliance recommends dispensaries increase their off-hours security.

“Harden your security and maybe have a monitoring company or an on duty security guard as a deterrent,” said Velasco-Shmitz.

Kyle Pfeiffer, a sales manager at CannaGuard, one of the larger cannabis security firms in the country, said nighttime break-ins are common at dispensaries and his company offers a service where a real person monitors a dispensary’s cameras overnight. Pfeiffer said the majority of theft from cannabis businesses happens from their own employees.

“Most theft is internal. The few clients that we have that have theft, the majority come back and say it was a former employee that used to work for them, because they know the ins and outs of the system,” Pfieffer said.

Pot stores might be an even bigger target for burglaries for the next few months, as many stores are loading up on hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra inventory because of problems with the state’s new pot tracking software. Ryan Kunkel, the owner of the Have A Heart retail chain, said his company is aware of the extra security risk of this surplus product.

“Imagine one shop that carries $100,000 worth of inventory is now for the next couple of weeks going to carry what $3 or $400,000 just for the carry over? We’ve never been such sweet target,” Kunkel said. “And you know there’s robberies every night at shops right now in Seattle.”