Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jul 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Rick Anderson, Special to Los Angeles Times


After Dispensary Shootings, Industry Urges Bank Access

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

But while those armed robbery attempts and a pot store shootout in 
Los Angeles County were unfolding last month, Democraticsponsored 
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 recent killing of 24-year-old 
Colorado pot store guard Travis Mason, "remind us that the cashbased 
nature of the legal cannabis industry here in Colorado makes these 
dispensaries and cultivation facilities prime targets."

Mason, a former Marine with a wife and three children, 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 without any 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, Calif., 
medical marijuana dispensary owner survived a shootout with two 
would-be robbers. On his security camera, the owner spotted the two 
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 
escaped unharmed.

Police in Santa Ana, Calif., 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 anonymous 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 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, 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 U.S. states in November when they vote on legalization 
measures. Marijuana Business Daily reports that potential ballot 
measures loom in another six states, and it 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 Mason, 
the slain Colorado pot store guard, 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.

Meanwhile, cash-only remains a business hazard. Four days after 
Mason's killing in Colorado, a 35year-old San Bernardino, Calif., 
medical marijuana dispensary guard was shot in the head. He remains 
in critical condition. Three armed robbers got away with a haul of cash.

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