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Gunmen stormed CannaMart on Stony Plain Road Dec. 12, 2019 and made off with two garbage bags full of marijuana. (Courtesy CannaMart)

Cannabis store managers are increasing security and calling for a review of government rules following a rash of robberies in Edmonton and an attempted break-in in Spruce Grove.

Four cannabis stores have been robbed in the city since the start of December, says Edmonton Police Service, including CannaMart on Stony Plain Road.

“Well it’s definitely made a lot of the staff question whether or not they want to be in this industry. My two staff members still have not returned back to work,” said Christopher Wilson of CannaMart.

Wilson provided security footage of the robbery. It happened at his west Edmonton store on Dec. 12.

The video shows two men enter the store with what appears to be a sawed-off long gun.

Two female employees can be seen consoling each other as the men raid display cases and a storage room. They also attempt to steal a small safe.

The video is time-stamped and shows the robbery lasted about 15 minutes.

The suspects fled through the backdoor with two garbage bags of cannabis, just as an EPS officer, with his handgun drawn, enters the front door.

The two employees in the video were not physically injured.

Wilson said they did the right thing by complying with the gunman and pushing a panic button when it was safe to do so.

He received that panic alert after a relay from the owner and called 911. He then watched the rest of the robbery on a live video feed.

“I was actually on the phone with the police while the robbery was going down. All I could think about was the safety of my staff,” Wilson said.

SUSPECTS IN ROBBERY VIDEO ARRESTED

On Jan. 22 EPS announced that they arrested the men accused in the CannaMart robbery.

One of the men is also charged with robbing three other cannabis stores with at least one other accomplice. Police were still looking for him.

EPS told CTV News Edmonton the string of thefts account for four of five robberies in the city since the start of 2019, adding the force has not seen a "notable trend" of cannabis store robberies. 

However, Wilson, while happy with the arrests, is worried about the next robbers. 

“There’s always the risk of someone coming in and shooting staff, and stuff like that. Yeah, I do have a firm belief that that could escalate to this if we, ourselves, aren’t due diligent,” Wilson said.

One of the employee’s friends was in a parked vehicle in front of the store the entire time the robbery was happening. Wilson is frustrated that person didn’t notice, due to the window covering blocking their view of the store interior.

Wilson has since removed a portion of the stores front window covering, so someone outside is more likely to spot a robbery.

Wilson also added 24-hour panic alarm and surveillance video monitoring, so police are notified sooner.

He wants Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) to clarify enforcement of federal rules on window coverings. He also wants provincial procedures for dealing with robberies added to an existing handbook. And he wants cannabis workers to be consulted in the process.

“By no means will I allow someone to tell me, ‘it has to be done this way and that this is the only way.’ Let’s work together to make sure this industry is safe for everyone,” Wilson said.

AGLC NOT COMMITING TO REVIEW

A spokesperson with AGLC said they were not able to schedule an on-camera interview this week, but a written statement was provided to CTV News Edmonton.

“They (retailers) are absolutely encouraged to discuss and explore additional safeguards to enhance the safety of staff and customers with their inspector. Each licensee is assigned to an inspector that engages with them regularly,” Heather Holmen, with AGLC, wrote in an email.

As for the window coverings, the AGLC points out that it is a federal law that “prohibits the display of cannabis or cannabis accessories where they can be seen by a young person.”

“In order to better display products for sale openly within the store and for customer experience purposes, most licensees have decided to cover their windows – but this is not an AGLC requirement,” Holmen wrote.

SPRUCE GROVE STORE ALSO TARGETED

CTV News Edmonton has also obtained footage of an attempted break-in at Queen Street Cannabis in Spruce Grove.

It happened at 2 a.m. on Jan. 9. A suspect can be seen smashing the front door glass, but not entering the store.

Still, the incident and news of local robberies has prompted owner David, who only wanted his first name used, to invest thousands in upgrading his security.

David is also considering providing self-defense training to Queen Street Cannabis staff members, and would be willing to discuss a security review with the AGLC.

“There’s always gonna be a couple bad apples just like the rest of the world. You kinda gotta just go with the flow,” said Queen Street Cannabis budtender Colten Kulak.

Kulak is willing to take more training and explore security improvements, because he doesn’t want to stop selling cannabis, despite the apparent safety risks.

“Work with them to give them what they want, so no one is getting harmed. Product can always be replaced but people cannot be,” Kulak said.