Burglaries at medical marijuana dispensaries increasing in Denver

DENVER — As lawmakers debate the future of recreational marijuana Denver Police say they are investigating more marijuana-related crimes.

Denver, where 66 percent of voters approved Amendment 64, has a growing crime issue related to marijuana according to Denver crime statistics.

When Colorado’s medical marijuana law took effect in 2009, there were 10 medical marijuana related burglaries.  In 2012, that number jumped to 102 marijuana related crimes. In the first three months of this year, thieves broke into 22 businesses.

MAP: Colorado has more MMJ dispensaries than Starbucks

Denver police said criminals are not just hitting medical dispensaries, but homes too.

“There has been a spike in burglaries and robberies related not only to commercial marijuana facilities, but residences growing marijuana,” said Sergeant Andrew Howard with Denver Police Department’s marijuana task force.

Howard’s task force investigates marijuana related crimes daily. He told FOX31 Denver the task force has seen a rise in consumer complaints about marijuana since April.

Since Amendment 64 allows adults to grow up to six plants at a time, police fear that could lead to even more home burglaries.

“They start to sell to their friends and they realize man, I could make a lot of money here. They’ll increase their number of plants and their sales and that’s when complaints come into my office,” Howard said.

Police think the amount of marijuana grown in the state is much higher than the amount consumed, creating a national issue too.

The black market for Colorado’s green has skyrocketed in part because, “The THC level in the marijuana is much higher than that grown in the ditches of Iowa.  So, the value of marijuana is greater if you take it across the border,” Howard said.

Dispensaries investing in security

To combat crime, dispensary and warehouse owner Norton Arbelaez, and his partner, spent $45,000 to install dozens of cameras, shock sensors, motion detectors and panic alarms to protect his marijuana grow.

The 84 cameras watch every plant and patient at River Rock Wellness located north of Interstate 70 and Brighton Boulevard.

“Over the long term if the regulations are properly executed, if people install the cameras, install the security; we will be one of the most heavily regulated businesses in the state of Colorado,” Arbelaez said.

State guidelines require all marijuana businesses to maintain 40 days of video sales that regulators could access online.  The seed to sale monitoring effort could also be a crime determent.

“The voters of the state of Colorado have spoken clearly that cannabis possession is not a crime and so we have to provide legal avenues of distribution.,” Arbelaez said.

With the increase in crime Denver residents have another reason to watch and be wary.

“It makes me think twice for sure,” said Denver mother of two, Shannon Austin.  “It doesn’t bother me what people do in their own homes, but if it does bring crime into my neighborhood that does bother me a little bit.

The state legislature, which must decide how to regulate marijuana, adjourns Wednesday.  Amendment 64 calls for sales to get underway starting next year.