Violent robberies at pot shops fuel new efforts for federal marijuana banking reform

The amount of armed robberies at pot shops in the region is surging, and so is the fear among the people trying to work and protect them—especially after a deadly robbery in Tacoma.

That fear has sparked new efforts, pushing for federal banking reforms that could provide a safer way of handling money and business.

Shea Hynes owns cannabis stores in Seattle, which he said were held up at gunpoint three times this year. Though marijuana is legal in Washington, it isn’t under federal law. So, banks and credit card companies don’t work with these businesses for that reason, leaving stores reliant on cash, prompting thieves to target them.

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"The trauma that staff is experiencing is immeasurable. The true harm of these robberies, it’s not financial impacts on businesses, it’s the impacts on people. Nobody should have to come into work and be concerned of not making it home at night," said Hynes.

"This is really dangerous for small business owners and workers who are just following the letter of the law. It makes absolutely no sense that legal cannabis businesses are being forced to operate entirely in cash," said U.S. Senator Patty Murray.

Senator Murray has been advocating for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act for a very long time. SAFE would allow pot shops in states where marijuana is legal to work with banks and credit card companies without pushback from federal banking regulators.

"Right now, we have no access to capital, no access to traditional financing methods, we don’t have credit cards, we don’t have the ability to process these payments," said Hynes.

RELATED: State Liquor and Cannabis Board to discuss safety at local pot shops

During a news conference in Tukwila on Wednesday, Murray said she is confident SAFE is one step closer to becoming law based on the momentum of its legislative path.

"The House has passed the SAFE Banking six times now on a bipartisan basis. Clearly, there is bipartisan strong support for this already. So, I want this to be the year we finally get that bill across the finish line and in the Senate and to the president’s desk to be signed in to law," said Murray.

"Washington was one of the first states, through citizen initiative, to legalize recreational cannabis. It is only appropriate that Washington now be the leader to allow for banking in the cannabis industry," said Washington State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, who also spoke at the conference.

Not only would SAFE open new opportunity to handle money in the industry, it could also increase safety for cannabis employees.

Two teenage boys are now in custody for shooting and killing a staffer at a store in Tacoma. Huckleberry Kid miraculously survived a tussle after armed robbers shot him six times while he was working at a cannabis store in Shoreline.

"I got shot in the leg, I got shot through and through in the arm, broke one of my bones—I got a screw in there. I got shot through the abdomen, chopped up my liver a little bit. I got another shot in the abdomen and another shot on the top of the leg," said Kid.

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Senator Murray is a negotiator on a conference committee that sorts out differences between the House-passed COMPETES Act and the Senate-passed USICA. She said she would prioritize marijuana banking reform as a member of the committee.