Taxi cab drive Juan Molina pays his respects at a make-shift memorial for shooting victim Travis Mason at the Green Heart marijuana dispensary on June 20, 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Pot shop slaying has industry concerned about security

DENVER — Cameras are everywhere in a pot shop, from the parking lot to the front door to the warehouses where the plant is packaged.

But the elaborate security requirements in states that allow medical or recreational pot stores have one thing in common: They were written to keep weed off the black market, not to protect the people handling the drug.

A fatal attack on a security guard at a suburban Denver dispensary last week has the industry wondering whether state security requirements are enough. Some industry analysts have compared a marijuana shop to a jewelry store full of untraceable diamonds, often uninsured and protected by people making not much more than minimum wage.

It’s a recipe for danger.

Former Marine Travis Mason, 24, was shot and killed last weekend in Aurora at the Green Heart dispensary he was hired to guard. Police haven’t made any arrests in the killing, which they say was perpetrated by two armed men.

The slaying was the first known on-the-job death at a licensed marijuana business in Colorado. It highlighted how little is known about how safe pot shops are.

It’s unclear whether dispensaries or pot-growing operations are more likely to be robbed than any other place of business. Crime records aren’t compiled by type of business, and the marijuana industry is hesitant to publicize crimes.

No state with legal weed businesses keeps a count of how often they or their employees are robbed.

“You’re just as likely to get an armed robbery at a bank or a convenience store or anywhere else where there is cash,” said Michael Jerome, spokesman for Blue Line Protection Group, a security firm that serves marijuana businesses in several states, including Colorado.

“But in this industry, there is a natural tendency to resist uniformed security that looks like a police officer. And when they’re robbed, they keep quiet about it to avoid becoming targets.”

The security requirements in states with regulated pot shops look fairly similar. Businesses have to film entries and exits, with cameras good enough to identify people.

“They’re really just to watch plants and keep people from selling to 12-year-olds. They don’t provide real security,” Noah Stakes, CEO of CannaGuard, a Portland, Oregon, company that has installed security systems in more than 250 marijuana businesses in several states.

Colorado’s Department of Public Safety tried earlier this year to count crimes at marijuana businesses. They found it impossible. But they did note that Denver, which has tried to count crimes related to marijuana businesses, has found no uptick in robberies near pot shops.

“There has been concern that … robbery would be prevalent, but this has not proven to be the case” in Denver, authors noted.

Still, the Aurora shooting has people who work with cannabis anxious. The industry has difficulty accessing banking services, forcing many businesses to require cash payments.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that if we don’t fix the banking issue, somebody’s going to get killed. Unfortunately that appears to have happened,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

A bill pending in the U.S. Senate aims to help alleviate marijuana-industry concerns about ongoing problems finding banking services. The bill, which awaits action in the House, bars the use of federal money to penalize a financial institution doing business with a marijuana business that complies with state laws.

Back in Aurora, marijuana workers are sometimes anxious about going to work.

“People were a little on edge,” said Colin Patrick, general manager at Euflora Recreational Marijuana in Aurora, which put up $3,000 to match federal and city rewards for information on the Green Heart killers.

For now, employee safety is largely left up to individual shop owners, not the state.

“They’re a lot more worried about the product than us, that’s for sure,” Patrick said of the marijuana regulators.


Kristen Wyatt can be reached on Twitter: @APkristenwyatt