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Springs dispensary gets robbed as industry looks for banking fix




At around 5 p.m. on Monday, June 20, a medical marijuana center on the north side of Colorado Springs was the target of an armed robbery. According to the police blotter, "a male with a light complexion wearing dark clothes" entered the business, weapon in hand, demanding cash. He made away with an undisclosed amount of money and merchandise.

Lt. Timothy Stankey, police department spokesman, says that because the suspect is still at-large and an investigation is just getting underway, the full case report is unavailable.

The dispensary in question is A Wellness Center, owned by a member of the city's Marijuana Task Force, Tom Scudder. Scudder has been criticized online as being "anti-patient" for supporting some ordinances City Council recently enacted — namely, the residential plant limit and year-long moratorium. He says it's "entirely possible" that this angst motivated the burglary, though he doesn't draw hard-and-fast conclusions. "Of course it's not true," Scudder says about his anti-patient reputation, adding that "we were one of the first places in town to offer substantial edibles and CBD products."

This is the third burglary of a Springs marijuana business this year. Last year, there were 19. Marc Vasquez of Erie, who heads up the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police's marijuana committee, says he's not sure if marijuana businesses are targeted more than others. "Anytime you've got something of value — like cash or marijuana — you're going to have a certain number of crimes occur," he told the Indy. "So are they more vulnerable? Yeah, I'd say they are. But we also have bank robberies for the same reason."

Local police departments generally treat marijuana businesses like any other business — patrol officers are vigilant but don't devote extra time or resources to protecting them.

Establishments that deal with marijuana are required by state law to take security precautions. State statute requires all facilities use commercial-grade locks and install alarms at every point of entry. They must keep security cameras trained on everything inside the building — plus a 20-foot perimeter outside — close enough that anyone's facial features are recognizable. They're required to monitor their surveillance equipment. The state's Marijuana Enforcement Division, under the Department of Revenue, checks up to keep licensees in compliance. That means state and local law enforcement agencies get access to all footage at dispensaries throughout Colorado.

Scudder says his six-year-old dispensary is in full compliance, but his eight camera views of the burglary show a suspect unrecognizable behind a bandana, hat and gloves. He doesn't plan on beefing up security after this incident, citing a recent murder in Aurora as example that more hired guns doesn't necessarily mean more safety.

After that fatal shooting of a security guard at a pot shop two weeks ago, Blue Line Protection Group — one of the biggest private security firms in the cannabis industry — issued a statement declaring solidarity with the victim (who wasn't one of their own). "Moments such as this remind us that the cash-based nature of the legal cannabis industry here in Colorado makes these dispensaries and cultivation facilities prime targets of criminal elements based not only here in Denver, but criminal organizations heralding from other states, as well," the statement read.

And that — "the cash-based nature of the industry" — gets at the root of the public safety concern. No business owner would choose to operate that way, but because banks and credit card companies won't touch money tied to a federally illegal substance, this billion-dollar industry doesn't have access to traditional banking services.

There've been several attempts to rectify the situation. A new state-chartered credit union called Fourth Corner last year applied for a master account through the Federal Reserve with the express purpose of banking with Colorado's cannabis industry. When the Fed refused, Fourth Corner sued, arguing there's no reason to prevent them from banking given the Department of Justice has said it won't prosecute anyone operating in compliance with state marijuana laws.

Government lawyers defended the Fed's decision to reject Fourth Corner, arguing in a motion to dismiss that "the court would not entertain other such attempts — such as if Colorado enacted a scheme to allow trade in endangered species or trade with North Korea in derogation of federal laws, and then chartered a credit union to handle the finances for companies conducting such illegal trade."

Ultimately, the judge sided with the Fed, writing that "these [DOJ] guidance documents simply suggest that prosecutors and bank regulators might 'look the other way' if financial institutions don't mind violating the law. A federal court cannot look the other way."

Without the prospect of a cannabis credit union, Colorado's marijuana industry looks to D.C. for a better fix. Legalization supporters have asked Congress previously to let banks do business with the marijuana industry, though legislation failed last session. Mid-June, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that would prohibit the use of federal dollars to penalize financial institutions that serve state-legal marijuana businesses. But now a similar proposal has stalled in a House committee.

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