Sunday, September 11, 2016

unemployed vets find a niche in the legalized marijuana industry

nwaonline |  No industry is immune to thievery. But the owners of Colorado's 978 marijuana shop licenses and 1,393 marijuana grow licenses are particularly vulnerable. Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, many banks won't work with cannabis businesses, forcing them to deal in mountains of cash.

Perhaps more significant, their product is also lucrative for criminals: A pound of marijuana worth $2,000 in Colorado can be sold for $4,000 or $6,000 across state lines. Stores and grow houses are often soft targets in darkened parts of town. And unlike cash, marijuana is untraceable, easily sold on Craigslist or driven to dealers in Chicago and New York.

"The black market is still booming," said Cmdr. James Henning of the Denver Police Department. Contrary to the popular narrative, marijuana is a burglar's typical prize. "They don't get cash," the commander said. "That's usually in the big old safe, and they can't get into that. Usually, it's plants and finished product."

The department said it believes that the city's marijuana businesses have been targeted by organized groups, though it has no evidence that the groups are linked to foreign cartels.

Surveillance videos of some burglaries show thieves sawing through the roofs of businesses, tracking law enforcement with police scanners, and tying up employees. In one case, in southern Colorado, a pair of guards spotted four men in tactical gear carrying AR-15 rifles through a field. The watchmen, former Marine snipers wearing night-vision goggles, scared them away with warning shots.

Denver, one of the few jurisdictions compiling data on crimes at marijuana businesses, has 421 pot-growing houses and shops. It recorded 192 burglaries and thefts at such businesses in 2015. In Aurora, a suburb with 19 operating pot shops, 18 burglaries and robberies have occurred since 2014.
But some business owners do not report break-ins, because they worry that they will be seen as targets or attract inspectors who will find a violation.

Criminals have netted anything from a few marijuana-laced sodas to a quarter-million dollars in plants. In June, much worse occurred: Two armed men entered a pot shop in Aurora, called Green Heart, and killed a guard, Travis Mason. The police called it a botched robbery.

Mason, 24, a former Marine and father of three, was believed to be the first cannabis employee to die on the job in Colorado, and the episode alarmed the industry. Some security businesses reported a rush of requests for armed guards.

"Thieves in this industry are getting much more brazen, much more aggressive," said Ryan Tracy, 38, general manager at the Herbal Cure, which now has a guard on duty every night.