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Weed Shops Continue to be Dangerous for Workers

24 Mar, 2024 Liz Carey

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Mount Vernon, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) – Two workers at separate cannabis warehouses are dead after robbers engaged in shootouts with warehouse employees.

In Mount Vernon, N.Y., an unnamed warehouse employee was one of two people who died after a group of 10 to 15 people stormed the warehouse and attempted to rob it. The warehouse, which sells to vape and smoke shops in and around New York City, was thought to have about $8 million in cash in it, as well as a stash of cocaine.

According to charging documents, on Tuesday around midnight, employees at a warehouse on 137 South Fifth Ave. in Mount Vernon were packing up a large order of unlicensed vapes and cannabis products. When the order was completed, two employees exited the shop to assist the customers who had ordered it with their purchases. At that point, officials said, a group of between 10 and 15 people jumped out of a nearby van and brandished guns.

The would-be robbers ordered the employees to go back into the warehouse and lay down on the ground. At that point, employees in the warehouse started shooting at the would-be robbers, and a gun fight ensued. One of the warehouse employees, and one of the would-be robbers was killed during the shootout.

When police arrived, they found a man believed to be one of the robbers dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Another man with gunshot wounds to the torso, chest and abdomen was rushed to the hospital where he later died, according to the criminal complaint.

Police arrested Ilario Contreras, 23; Jerpi Diaz-Feliz, 25; Jhoan Diaz-Feliz, 23; Victor Jimenez, 35; and Joseph Perez, 26 and charged them with one count of conspiracy to engage in drug trafficking, one count of possessing and discharging a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking activity, and murder through the use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

Almost every charge carries with it a maximum sentence of life in prison, except the conspiracy to commit robbery charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

“The defendants’ alleged brazen actions demonstrated extreme disregard for public safety and posed a significant threat to the community,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said in a statement. “The FBI will not cease its relentless pursuit of those who choose violence, especially using firearms, to further their criminal behavior.”

On the same day in Pleasant Hill, Cal., two men, one a delivery worker for a legal cannabis distributor and the other a suspected robber, died of gunshot wounds during an attempted robbery.

Authorities said Peter Popovich, 63, of Pleasant Hill, had been delivering for a company that sold packaging materials for the legal sale of cannabis. After making deliveries in the Bay Area to cannabis distributors, he was targeted, officials said, by two men. Trevon Davis, 21, of San Pablo, and another man, targeted Popovich as he stood near his delivery van, police said.

When the men attempted to rob Popovich, a gun fight ensued between the delivery driver and the two would-be robbers. Both men were taken to an area hospital where they later died. Popovich died hours earlier than Davis, officials said.

Officials said Popovich had a license to carry a concealed weapon. Witnesses said they thought Davis and the other would-be robber may have targeted Popovich for any drugs and cash he may have had.

"Maybe they thought he might have had drugs or cash, he had neither, you know," Susan Gisser, a resident in the area of the shooting told KGO-TV. "He never carried the pot, never. He just went and gave the packaging to the dispensaries."

While cannabis may be legal in many states it remains illegal at the federal level. Federal regulations do not immunize banking and insurance organizations from dealing with cannabis businesses which relegates it often times to a “cash-only” business operation. That places businesses and employees at a greater risk of theft.

In 2022, many states introduced legislation to allowed financial institutions and insurers to provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses by granting safe harbor protections.

“Access to financial and insurance services is essential for operating any business and it is against the public interest to relegate a multi-billion-dollar industry to deal in piles of cash,” Pennsylvania Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin/Perry) said at the time. “Banking this cash safely in Pennsylvania provides certainty for businesses, is a huge opportunity to grow our economy, and should ultimately lower costs for medical cannabis consumers.”

Recent reporting in the Nation has found that workers in the cannabis industry also face threats from unsafe working conditions in cannabis growing factories. In 2022, Lorna McMurrey died after suffering from an asthma attack at a cannabis-processing facility in Holyoke, Mass. Officials said McMurrey died three days after the asthma attack – a condition her mother, Laura Bruneau, said she didn’t have until she started working at the large-scale cannabis growing facility.

OSHA investigated McMurrey’s death and ultimately fined the company $32,500 after its investigation that found McMurrey inhaled ground cannabis dust and could not breathe.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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