Newest cannabis store robbery reignites calls to change opaque window rules

| David Brown

A Calgary cannabis retailer was robbed this past weekend.

The owner shared his story online, with an appeal to address provincial rules that many in the industry have long said put retailers at risk. 

Ryan Roch, the owner of Lake City Cannabis in Alberta, says three men entered his company’s Calgary location on Saturday night, holding off staff and getting away with a quantity of cannabis products. 

Although Roch says he’s grateful his staff were unharmed during the robbery, he’s sharing his story online to both warn other retailers to be vigilant in their security efforts and try to highlight how provincial rules that require retailers to cover their windows in opaque film put staff at risk. 

Calling it a “forced unsafe work environment” that puts cannabis workers at risk, Roch says he wants to see provinces like Alberta look at revisiting their interpretation of federal rules, which dictate that cannabis in retail stores cannot be seen by young people, even from the sidewalk. 

“They were masked and covered from head to toe,” Roch tells StratCann. “One had a Halloween style mask. They were gloves as well. They said they were armed but never produced a weapon. They were able to steal a fair amount but fortunately our locks caused them enough delays. They kept staff with them but argued between each other on what to do.”

“I’m speaking up not in malice towards our regulators as I know they do care for our safety,” he continues. “However this policy is one clouded by bureaucracy based around false moral protection. I’m worried that if we don’t change this soon that blood will be on all our hands and we will then wish we had done more. It’s the right thing to do.”

Facing similar concerns, the BC government changed their own rules in 2020, allowing retailers to have transparent windows. “Opaque windows are counter to every risk-management document when it comes to business safety,” Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRS), told local media at the time.  

The rules in Canada vary from province to province and even city to city. 

Ontario’s regulations note that some stores may choose to use tinted glass or frosted windows to ensure products and accessories are not visible from outside of the store, but notes this is on a case by case basis and is up to the retailer. 

Saskatoon’s retail cannabis rules specifically disallow opaque windows: “Businesses operating a cannabis retail store shall ensure that windows on any street frontage on the premises are not blocked by translucent or opaque material, artwork, posters, shelving, display cases or similar elements,” while Winnipeg has said they do need to be opaque. 

Health Canada has shared regulatory interpretation with retailers and provinces providing guidance on federal regulations  restricting young people from not only entering retail stores, but also seeing cannabis or cannabis products and labels from the street. 

Although some provinces initially interpreted federal regulations that require that young people cannot see cannabis or cannabis products and labels from the street, Health Canada has provided regulatory guidance to retailers and provincial regulators on the issues, clarifying that the federal rules don’t necessarily require opaque windows. Instead, they just need to not be prominently or reasonably visible from the street. 

Sections 29 and 30 of the federal Cannabis Act do state that “it is prohibited for a person that sells a cannabis accessory to display it, or any package or label of a cannabis accessory, in a manner that may result in the cannabis accessory, package or label being seen by a young person”. 

A representative for Fire & Flower, a chain of retailers with locations in several provinces, shared their own company policy on the issue, which emphasizes positioning of products inside in a way that they are not easily visible through a window, or using semi transparent film to somewhat obscure visibility. This would still allow people to see inside in the instance of a robbery, for example, while still discouraging minors from seeing products. 

This is not the first robbery of a cannabis store in Canada. In December, 2020 and Jan 2021, two Calgary area cannabis retailers were robbed. In both instances, an individual threatened staff and made off with cash and product. 

In June of this year, another cannabis store in Calgary was robbed at gunpoint by four men, and in February a man allegedly assaulted an employee and robbed a BC Cannabis Store in Oliver, BC.

Robberies of cannabis stores are not limited to legal retailers. In BC in early 2020, a masked man robbed an unlicensed cannabis store in Abbotsford. In 2016 a Vancouver cannabis dispensary was robbed at gunpoint, as well.

In May 2015, thieves broke into the same store by crashing a van through its front window. Another unlicensed dispensary in Vancouver was robbed in 2019.