Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jul 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Rick Anderson


Marijuana Shops Become the Targets of Violent Heists.

The recent killing of a marijuana store security guard in Colorado 
and the wounding of a guard in San Bernardino are the latest examples 
of the crime lure posed by cash-only pot dispensaries, industry observers say.

But while those robbery attempts and a pot store shootout in Walnut 
Park in Los Angeles County were unfolding last month, 
Democratic-sponsored legislation that could have led to more 
dispensaries offering plastic and electronic payments in lieu of cash 
was blocked by House Republicans.

"Moments such as this," said security expert Michael Jerome of Blue 
Line Protection Group, referring to the killing of 24-year-old 
Colorado pot store guard Travis Mason, "remind us that the cash-based 
nature of the legal cannabis industry here in Colorado makes these 
dispensaries and cultivation facilities prime targets."

A former Marine with a wife and three children, Mason was shot in the 
head on June 19 by two armed robbers at the Green Heart pot 
dispensary in Aurora, a Denver suburb. It was his second week on the job.

The would-be robbers, who fled with no money, are still being sought. 
Rewards totaling $12,000 have been offered for their capture.

"This incredibly sad situation underscores the public safety risk 
faced by our industry due to the fact that we don't have access to 
banking," Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana 
Industry Group, told the Aurora Sentinel.

That risk was underscored on June 8, when a Walnut Park medical pot 
dispensary owner survived a shootout with two would-be robbers. On 
his security camera, the owner spotted the men arriving with masks 
and armored vests, according to a Los Angeles County sheriff's 
spokesman. One was carrying an assault rifle. The owner drew his own 
gun and wounded the two as they entered. The owner was unharmed.

Santa Ana police recently announced a $100,000 reward for information 
leading to the arrest of a suspect in the shooting of another 
marijuana dispensary owner, Derek Worden, 48, who survived two bullet 
wounds outside his store in November. Police said donors provided the 
reward money after the investigation stalled. Worden's dispensary had 
been open for just four months. The shooter ran off without any 
money, officials said.

Crime statistics concerning legal dispensaries are hard to come by as 
the industry expands, and, understandably, operators are reluctant to 
talk about how much cash they can have on hand. But in a late-night 
Seattle dispensary break-in last year, for example, thieves got away 
with $100,000 in cash, police said.

Recreational use of marijuana is dominated by Western states - it's 
legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. 
Altogether, 25 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of 
recreational or medical marijuana use.

California, Nevada and six other states could make marijuana legal in 
a majority of states in November when they vote on legalization 
measures. Marijuana Business Daily reports that potential ballot 
measures loom in an additional six states, and predicts that legal 
pot could become an $8-billion industry in the U.S. by 2018.

But marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, causing most 
banks to steer clear of the industry. As a result, most dispensaries 
must deal in cash.

The Senate recently approved legislation to protect banks against 
repercussions if they do business with marijuana dispensaries, but a 
Republican-controlled committee blocked a similar amendment in the House.

One of the co-sponsors, Rep. Dennis Heck (DWash.), mentioned slain 
Colorado pot store guard Travis Mason after the GOP action. Heck told 
the National Journal that "every single member who opposed allowing 
this amendment ought to have that young man's name tattooed on their 
body to remind them."

More banks are opening their vaults to pot entrepreneurs, the 
Associated Press reports. In March, 300 financial institutions were 
working with marijuana companies, based on federal data. That 
compares to 51 in March 2014.

But cash-only remains a business hazard. Four days after Mason's 
killing in Colorado, a San Bernardino medical marijuana dispensary 
guard was shot in the head. He survived but remains in critical 
condition. Three robbers got away with a haul of cash.

It was similar to a robbery last year at another San Bernardino 
dispensary, except in that case, the guard, Anthony Victor Pineda, 
25, died from his wounds. The robbers fled with the cash.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom