Colorado: Call for Clarity in Medical Marijuana Industry Stretches Across Sectors

February 15, 2010 – Law enforcement and medical marijuana dispensaries alike hope state legislation and local ordinances will clearly define Amendment 20, allowing legitimate businesses to rise up from a longstanding underground environment.

Fort Collins police Capt. Jerry Schiager said he has a mission to help elevate the “legitimate” medical marijuana industry from the underground with better defined ground rules for law enforcement and businesses.

Once that process is complete, Schiager said law enforcement will have a firm grasp on the realities of how much medical-marijuana-related crime is being committed.

Schiager said he’s most concerned about crimes at dispensaries in residential areas because they often lack the ability to implement security systems.

In 2009, he said, there were 11 reported crimes related to medical marijuana business, including five home-invasion robberies, one armed robbery in a parking lot, one residential burglary, three business burglaries and one kidnapping case.

He also said there have been nine instances where officers responded to a security alarm, one suspicious circumstance reported and one trespass reported at medical marijuana dispensaries with sales-tax licenses.

Both Schiager and medical marijuana dispensary owners expressed concerns about crime because a vast majority of purchases are made with cash.

“This is a debate out there, but people say marijuana is a nonviolent drug. OK, I get that it’s different than methamphetamine or cocaine,” Schiager said. “But it’s a fact that there is a ton of money and a ton of weed that is being distributed. Marijuana is definitely the drug market with the most money right now.”

Danny Lookhart, owner of Emerald Pathways at 4020 S. College Ave., said he’s had some credit card companies stop processing his transactions, which he said causes him to have concerns that cash transactions might drive the entire industry underground.

“It’s legal, and money is money,” Lookhart said, referring to his business’s dealings with credit card companies.

Tim Gordon, co-founder of Medicinal Gardens of Colorado, 420 S. Howes St., said he’s been burglarized twice, including one time after he installed a state-of-the-art security system. He said in that instance, he was notified on his cell phone that the alarm had gone off and he responded to his business within minutes and was able to detain the intruder until police arrived shortly afterward.

He said his business takes credit cards and encourages customers to use them instead of cash and has a strict policy limiting the amount of medical marijuana on site.

“I’m definitely not more concerned as a dispensary,” he said, adding that he’s paid the price for peace of mind through his investment in security protection.

Not more dangerous

Still, others are adamant that a medical marijuana dispensary is no more susceptible to crime than a bank or pharmacy.

“Medical marijuana dispensaries are half as likely to be targets of violent crime as banks,” said Jessica Corry, a well-known legalization proponent and Denver attorney.

In Fort Collins in 2009, there were eight bank robberies compared with the 11 crimes reported that police could link to medical marijuana.

Corry’s husband and fellow attorney Rob Corry added: “I think bars are less safe to our communities than medical marijuana wellness clinics are. Bars are open to 2 a.m., and you have customers consuming the product on site.”

Schiager said he’s convinced crimes involving medical marijuana are under-reported because of concerns from businesses and medical-marijuana card holders that any attention from law enforcement is bad attention.

Nick Dice, a 22-year-old who owns Medical MJ Dispensary, 1240 W. Elizabeth St., said he just wants the rules for medical marijuana clearly defined.

“My big concern is that I don’t want to go to jail,” he said. “I’m losing sleep hoping they will tell me clearly and definitely what I have to do.”

Schiager said concerns similar to Dice’s are why he’s adamant about clearly defining the rules.

“Then when people are victimized, they will be more comfortable in calling police,” he said. “I suspect that of the crimes that have been reported to us, there are lots more out there that haven’t.”

Gordon said as more regulations are passed, dispensaries will be more comfortable contacting authorities.

“I have that confidence in the police here, and I feel they are all men and women of honor and they’re here to protect and serve, whether it’s a liquor store or a medical marijuana dispensary,” he said.

Schiager and other law enforcement officials say violent crime associated with medical marijuana is still a legitimate concern.

“Since a lot of the medical marijuana is under the radar – it’s under the table, it’s not clear what’s legal and what’s not truly legal – the crimes are under-reported,” he said. “It’s a good place to target someone knowing the crime might not be reported.”
Illegal growing

At the federal level, Jeffrey D. Sweetin, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s four-state Rocky Mountain Division based in Denver, said violence associated with large grow operations is a major concern.

“It’s a great day for burglars, robbers, dope dealers, smugglers,” he said. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in outdoor grows along the Front Range. We’re seeing multi-thousand grows being protected by armed, foreign cartel drug traffickers. We don’t want to think about that.

“We don’t want to believe that’s happening. We really are kind of in denial about what is happening.”

There are also valid concerns, Schiager said, about corruption within the medical marijuana industry.

“We do know a lot of the marijuana grown under the protection of Amendment 20 is sold illegally,” he said. “We’ve bought marijuana from some of the growers around the (Colorado State University) campus, but unless we have an undercover officer purchase from them, there’s really no way to enforce it.” Source.

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