AGLC, police re-examining cannabis store rules after spate of violent crimes

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Stores say window coverings give cover for robbers to assault staff, steal product

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) is looking at possible changes to its rules around product displays in cannabis stores as Calgary experiences a rise in crimes targeting the retailers. 

Stores around the city are complaining that the window coverings seen at many locations are providing cover for robbers to assault staff and steal. 

"This has been a major concern for us since the beginning. We took our window coverings down because of it," said Ashley Newman, founder of Queen of Bud. 

"Robberies could have been prevented and staff could have been protected if someone driving by or in the parking lot could see someone being held at gunpoint or a robbery was taking place."

Major uptick in recent months

Window coverings are not mandated by federal or provincial cannabis legislation; however, the products cannot be displayed where a young person can see them or be visible from outside the premises. 

Vinyl, paper or signage covering the storefront windows is the most common way stores comply with that requirement, according to the AGLC. Some stores split up the floor plan with walls to comply with the visibility rules and avoid window coverings. 

Police say they've seen a major uptick in the past 18 months in these crimes targeting cannabis retailers — and more are turning violent. 

"We certainly haven't seen anything like this. There's been the odd robbery here and there, but nothing like a consistent trend until 2021," said Sgt. Nick Wilsher of the Calgary Police Service's crime prevention team. 

"That is the biggest issue that we have, is the coverings on stores."

AGLC considering its options

There were 29 cannabis store robberies last year, and 10 so far this year. Almost half involved violence or threats of violence. Police have started suggesting owners remove the window coverings. 

Wilsher said the police service told the AGLC that other options need to be explored, such as reducing the height of the window coverings or removing them altogether. CPS has also suggested stores have functioning panic alarms, improve the placement of security cameras and store their stock in a vault. 

"We're looking at that situation right now and considering our options," said Rob Pape, the director of compliance for the AGLC. 

Pape added these crimes have become much more prevalent, prompting discussions about tweaking provincial policy. 

The AGLC supports enforcement of the federal Cannabis Act and has enacted its own policy handbook provincially. Any changes being considered have to be done in consultation with Health Canada.

"We're talking to our partners in law enforcement just to see what options there could be."

The increase in crime has become so prevalent that CPS has set up a WhatsApp group for cannabis retailers to communicate with each other on suspicious people or incidents. 

CPS says it's also working with other law enforcement agencies across the province to compare data. While Wilsher said other cities aren't seeing the same targeting of cannabis stores, the uptick in violent crime is fairly consistent across jurisdictions. 

"That's more the worrying trend for us, is this senseless violence against innocent parties."

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