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Medical pot shop deals with effects of robbery

An armed employee works the counter at Herbal Connection Tuesday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
An armed employee works the counter at Herbal Connection Tuesday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Paul Lugo stands with a customer in the lobby of his medical marijuana dispensary. The room is brightly lit, the windows painted with sunshine and colorful flowers.

Though the scene outside the Herbal Connection seems cheery, there’s a dark mood inside. Though Lugo said he’s normally in the business of helping customers, on Tuesday the customer was offering him help: free security in the wake of an armed robbery that left employees shaken and Lugo in tears.

“You guys are family,” the customer said.

At about 5:30 p.m. Monday, an armed robber entered the Garland District dispensary, his face hidden behind glasses and a scarf wrapped around his head. He ran off with about $5,000 to $7,000 in cash and medical marijuana products.

The robbery may be connected to a string of 10 other robberies that the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and Spokane Police Department are investigating. Two of the robberies occurred at glassware and marijuana paraphernalia shops Puffin Glass Studios and Peace of Mind. Lugo said he recognized the man from surveillance footage from some of the other robberies.

The robber is described as a man in his mid-20s, thin and about 5-foot-10. He was wearing dark blue jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt, a scarf and gloves.

Spokane police said they have made no arrests in this case.

When the robber fled the scene, Lugo ran after him with a gun, hoping to get a better look at the man or where he was going. But during the pursuit, the suspect pointed his gun at Lugo, who shot at the suspect but did not hit him, according to police.

“I’m still a little worked up about it,” Lugo said. “I’ve spent 13 years saving lives, not taking them. I shoot at targets, not people.”

Lugo said he is trying to move the business to a safer location. However, a city moratorium enacted in February on new medical marijuana dispensaries prevents him from moving. Although he is legally allowed to operate at his current location, he cannot reopen at a new location.

Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder said incidents like these are exactly why that moratorium was enacted. In the wake of Initiative 502, the city and state are determining the best methods for regulating marijuana dispensaries, medical or otherwise. Currently, medical marijuana dispensaries are a target for robberies since they mainly do business in cash.

“The bad folks out there know that there’s cash on hand at this place and this makes them a public safety problem,” Snyder said.

The moratorium is slated to end in July, but Snyder said it may be extended another six months.

Until Lugo can relocate his store, he said he’ll be taking measures to increase security. His patients are like family, he said, and the shop does everything it can to keep its customers safe.

“We really try to help our patients,” Lugo said. “We give them things when they can’t do it for themselves. It’s kind of hard when you try to do something like this and someone takes advantage of you like that.”

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