In the past two years, the crime rate in California has risen by a significant degree. In a 2022 report from the California Attorney General’s office, violent crimes increased by 6.1 percent and the property crime rate increased by about the same amount. Larceny theft rate in particular skyrocketed by over seven percent, and retail industries are experiencing the far-reaching effects due to the sharp uptick in larceny and other shoplifting-related crime. Even with all the other regular disadvantages that cannabis industries face from multiple fronts, this rise in retail crime and store burglaries have directly impacted the already troubled young industry. Even with the exorbitantly expensive state-of-the-art security systems that most cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities are required to have according to the stringent regulations, these businesses and production facilities are the victim of burglaries, robberies and similar crimes.
Within cannabis businesses in the Golden State especially, these crimes are shockingly all too common. Worse even, these robberies are usually committed by an organized team of thieves with multiple vehicles as opposed to just a single lone thief. In December of 2022, a Silver Lake dispensary in Los Angeles was robbed by one of these teams of thieves of approximately $1 million in products. In July of 2023, a terrifying scene straight from a Martin Scorsese movie occurred when a cannabis farm in Humboldt County was robbed by a squad of 10 different men led by the former manager of that very farm.
In Santa Cruz in particular, dispensary robberies have become a shockingly common crime. Back in March, a cultivation facility was robbed by another team of thieves with multiple vehicles. The thieves stole in total over half a million dollars worth of products in a timeframe of less than 15 minutes and took the stolen goods to multiple separate locations. Only days later, a dispensary in the Harvey Park West area of Santa Cruz was similarly robbed. Dispensary owners in the area are aware of an organized ring of thieves going around targeting the influx of cannabis businesses in Santa Cruz. Because these gangs of thieves are usually masked and use either stolen vehicles or license plates, law enforcement has an incredibly difficult time tracking them.
However, just last month, one Santa Cruz dispensary owner decided not to take a business robbery lying down, and is now facing serious felony charges because of it. On a quiet November night, eight different thieves broke into the Santa Cruz cultivation facility called Decibel Gardens. While the alarm systems were triggered and the store’s owner, Derek Hubbard, was alerted of the break-in, Santa Cruz police officers didn’t arrive at the scene of the 4:30 AM breakin before Hubbard himself did. For context, this wasn’t close to the first burglary the business owner had to deal with, and Hubbard responded to this most recent break-in via a way that few cannabis business owners will respond to a dispensary robbery until Texas legalizes cannabis.
As the thieves who not only broke into the cultivation facility but also broke the locked gates that surrounded the facility were fleeing the scene of the attempted million-dollar burglary and theft that they had just committed, Hubbard met them with a handgun and began firing at the escaping criminals. It’s not known how many rounds were fired in total or how many of the criminals were hit by the firearm, but Santa Cruz Police estimate that Hubbard shot his weapon about 8-10 times. Furthermore, the police determined that four of the suspects themselves were endangered by the business owner. Somehow disregarding the fact that a large-scale burglary had just occurred, the police arrested Hubbard on four counts of attempted murder.
“Hubbard used lethal and deadly force to try and stop what was ultimately a property crime from occurring without there being any threat of violence toward him.” Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Jon Bush said. Easily observable in the surveillance camera footage of many of these break-ins are gangs of thieves with firearms that aren’t exactly concealed. Based on that alone, the police chief’s claim that there wasn’t “any threat of violence” against Hubbard is already debatable. KSBW Channel 8 even reported that Hubbard himself was also shot at in response. So once again Chief Bush, how exactly is a business owner being shot at by armed burglars that had only just robbed that owner’s business establishment not considered “a threat of violence?”
In a district attorney’s legal decision that could only happen in California, Hubbard was subsequently charged by the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office with a further four counts of assault with a semiautomatic rifle and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Once again, Hubbard had used a handgun and not a rifle, but this is California that this case occurred in and not Texas, so lack of proper firearm knowledge is easily explainable. Although overcharging by a Prosecutor’s Office is a larger, National symptom. Most egregious though was Hubbard being charged with a felony of shooting at an inhabited dwelling, which could either be considered one of the vehicles or perhaps a nearby business.
If the “inhabited dwelling” does refer to one of the vehicles, it’s worth noting that a vehicle related to the robbery and response shooting was reported stolen from the nearby Bay Area and found abandoned off a Highway 17 exit.
“Our facility was previously burglarized in March of this year.” Hubbard explained in the Change.org petition to dismiss all charges against him. “The group of highly organized and armed men reduced our place to shambles as they broke down doors, ruined my life’s work, jeopardized the team’s jobs and stole all our hard earned product. We were left without a guarantee of home or work. We put the pieces back together yet at one point we even had to consider closing our doors as we couldn’t support the costs that come with keeping a business operational. We worked relentlessly with the Santa Cruz Police Department to find and prosecute this dangerous gang of thieves.”
According to Hubbard’s petition, his team worked with a total of six different detectives in multiple jurisdictions, yet no detectives returned a single one of his calls.
“The lack of investigation or interaction with victims led to the incident that caused my arrest and almost cost my life.”
The issue with self-defense is that it is the same as the defense we have for most states, as it relates to the medical use of marijuana. It is an affirmative defense. “An affirmative defense requires that you you admit you are guilty of the underling crime. However, you have a legal excuse for for the crime. For medical use of marijuana, the crime would be: I am guilty of producing or possessing marijuana. The affirmative defense would be: I have a medical necessity or authorization to use marijuana. In this case, Hubbard is required to admit he committed assault or attempted assault, but he had an excuse. Because the other person was trying to kill Hubbard. They had a gun in their hand and/or were driving a vehicle toward Hubbard. In short, he feared for his own life and acted to defend it,” said Cannabis Lawyer, Aaron Pelley. However, just because you have the affirmative defense, does not prevent the Prosecutor’s Office from filing and prosecuting the case. The burden is on the defendant (Hubbard) to present the facts and prove the defense. Only a jury can dismiss you with an affirmative defense.
In total, over 5,000 people have signed the petition to dismiss the laundry list of charges against Hubbard. This is an ongoing case, so Hubbard’s fate had yet to be determined. Regardless of the outcome though, The State of California v. Derek Hubbard will be a landmark case on the subject of not only self-defense laws, but also what level of force is necessary for protecting one’s business and manufacturing facilities. And given the fact that this is one of the first self-defense cases surrounding the cannabis industry, this case will undeniably make cannabis legal history simultaneously.