“The cops did a great job, they showed up really quick but at that time the people just pulled a bunch of plants out and ran,” Perrigo said.
The cops took some evidence and Perrigo did his best to reinforce the businesses doors and secure the farm before leaving after midnight.
“We left at 12:30, the thieves ripped all of the [security system’s] keypads off so we couldn’t arm it that evening. And no one could repair it because it’s Christmas Eve and nobody can come help,” Perrigo said.
Then things got a lot worse.
One of Perrigo’s employees returned to the farm at 9 a.m. Christmas Day and found the burglars had returned, this time punching a hole through the wall and making off with 80 pounds of fully cured pot, worth about $120,000 according to a police report, and 29 fully mature plants. Perigo said the retail value of the stolen pot was close to $200,000, which amounts to a devastating blow to one of Seattle’s favorite pot farms. Perrigo said it will take months to grow enough pot to replenish the missing weed, and he has been forced to purchase product from other farms to keep his employees busy making the farm's popular Saints pre-roll brand.
And Perrigo isn’t the only local pot farm to get broken into. Another farm up in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood was the victim of a similar break-in. Alex Prindle, the owner of Fire Bros in Interbay, said that in June a group of burglars cut the power to his building and tried to pry open a front door. When the alarm went off and the cops came the attempted thieves went running, only to return early the next day. When they came back they brought machetes and started breaking through the building’s walls. They broke into a neighboring business and tried to punch a hole through both building’s walls. When that didn’t work, they used wire cutters to break through a fence behind Fire Bros' building and then punched out a three foot by three-foot hole into the farm, according to Prindle.
“It was wood paneling, insulation and sheetrock; they climbed right in. Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate people breaking in through the back of the building so we didn’t have any [alarm] sensors in that area,” Prindle said.
Prindle said the thieves took close to 100 pounds of weed worth over $200,000. Both Prindle and Perrigo told me that they thought the burglars were professional thieves that are exporting the top shelf products across the country to states where weed is still prohibited.
“I assume that they would be shipping it east or somewhere where it’s not legal. I don’t think that there’s a lot of value here and I think that much weight would be difficult to offload,” Prindle said.
Prindle said he was the victim of an earlier burglary that seemed to fit the same pattern of his June 2018 incident and the Christmas Eve burglary at Seattle Green Buds.
“We got hit twice and I’m pretty confident it’s the same guys. I know of break-ins at a few other companies that I believe are the same guys. They match the description and the methods,” Prindle said.
Sean Whitcomb, a spokesperson for SPD, said the two robberies may have been connected but that they also fit the description of most organized break-ins.
“These types of crimes can have similar patterns and typically the people that commit the crimes are prolific because they don’t just commit just one,” Whitcomb said. “If you commit a burglary in one neighborhood you are more likely to do it in a different neighborhood.”
Whitcomb said SPD is aware of pot farm break-ins but he said he didn’t know of any evidence of a growing trend.
“No one has shared with me a specific trend. It’s certainly possible but it’s not unique to right now, even before marijuana was legalized we had these types of crimes at medical grows,” Whitcomb said.
Unlike almost every other type of business, pot farmers are rarely able to insure their products. Both farmers told me that insurance is prohibitively expensive and would require them to put all of their pot in safes, something that is not physically feasible. Prindle said the financial hardship of the burglary and worries over machete-swinging burglars almost convinced him to shut down his business.
“It was a massive financial hit, so we didn’t make any money last year,” Prindle said. “I came very close to tapping out of the business at that point. I was thinking that could have been me or one of my employees. I don’t want to be put in any serious risk and I definitely don’t want my guys to be either.”
Finding out where legal weed farms are located is as easy as going to the state's Liquor and Cannabis Board, which the two pot farmers say is partly to blame for security problems. The state’s pot regulator releases the addresses of pot growers and farms have to file security plans and sales data with the state. Perrigo and Prindle said that gives thieves a chance to identify where they should rob. But Whitcomb pushed back on that sentiment, pointing out that banks and other businesses with valuables already have their addresses publicly listed.
“You can’t anonymize where your business is,” Whitcomb said. “Marijuana grows, just like any other business that has valuables inside, would benefit from something we call crime prevention through environmental design. Which typically is a mixture of access, visibility, lighting, surveillance, things that make a home or a business more difficult to break into.”
Both pot farmers said they've improved their security systems since the break-ins. We'll see if that's enough to keep these burglars away.