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By Miriam Raftery

August 14, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) – “In recent months, the Rancho San Diego Command has experienced a trend of violent take-over style robberies of marijuana dispensaries,” Sergeant K. Murashige with the Rancho San Diego Sheriff’s substation says, adding, “In each case, armed guards were not a deterrent, the suspects were all armed, dispensary staff members failed to call for help even after people were physically assaulted, and in some cases the staff members refused to allow law enforcement to enter, causing a stand-off situation that stretched the department's resources in helping victims.”

The latest occurred on August 10 at 8:52 p.m., when deputies were dispatched to a call from a bystander reporting an armed robbery at an illegal dispensary in the 3600 block of Bancroft Drive in Spring Valley. Upon arrival, deputies set up a perimeter to contain the scene.

Sergeant Murashige states in a press release, “As expected, no one associated with the dispensary called law enforcement to report the incident. The reluctance by the staff to summon for help has created a dangerous environment, not only for dispensary staff members, but the public that patronize the facility. This reluctance delayed the ability of public safety members to conduct a safety sweep of the business to check for anyone needing medical attention and to start the investigation to apprehend the suspects.”

Once the scene was safe, it was preliminarily determined that at least two black males were involved in a take-over style robbery as they forced their way into the dispensary. During the robbery, the security guard was disarmed and the employees of the dispensary were ordered to the ground. The suspects fled the store after taking marijuana products. It was unknown if any cash was taken, Sgt. Murashige added.

The suspects were seen getting into an undisclosed type vehicle and leaving in an unknown direction. Both suspects are still outstanding and believed to be armed and dangerous. The investigation is on-going.

All of the dispensaries within the Rancho San Diego substation’s area of responsibility are illegal ones.  ECM has asked the Sheriff for records on whether legally licensed dispensaries have had similar crimes or not.  A licensed, legally operating dispensary near Gillespie Field includes a metal detector at the entrance and video cameras that broadcast live footage to the Sheriff’s department – a feature that may deter thieves and provide video evidence to help capture anyone bold enough to attempt a robbery inside the facility.

The county is phasing out its legal facilities over the next several years. However, some cities, including Lemon Grove and La Mesa, have had voters approve ballot initiatives allowing recreational or medical marijuana facilities to open in the near future, so local cities may want to take a close look at how effective security measures used elsewhere have been at dissuading violent crimes that put safety not only of employees, but also customers at risk.

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