Another Denver marijuana dispensary was recently held up at gunpoint, adding to a list of unsolved pot shop robberies in the city.
Ascend Cannabis Company, located at 3555 South Yosemite Street, was robbed at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Friday, January 3, by a group of men with rifles, according to the Denver Police Department. It is the seventh reported robbery attempt at a Denver area dispensary since November, with stores owned by Native Roots, A Cut Above, Frosted Leaf, Green Man Cannabis, Green Heart (Aurora) and Cherry Peak (Glendale) all reporting robberies or attempts.
Police are still investigating the most recent incident, but according to DPD spokesman Jay Casillas, the Ascend robbers are likely connected to the group responsible for the six previous incidents. "At this point, the M.O. is consistent with the previous [bulletins] we've put out, but we're still investigating to see if it's the same group," he says.
It was the first reported dispensary robbery since Native Roots was held up on December 16, Casillas adds.
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So far, the robbers seem to be targeting stores on the edges of town, hitting stores in the suburbs or northern and southern parts of Denver in a 2009 Chevrolet Equinox, typically waiting until minutes before closing to strike. Ascend ownership declined to comment on the robbery, but DPD says that the masked men showed up at 9:30 p.m., which is twenty minutes before the store's listed closing time of 9:50 p.m.
Representatives of Cherry Peak, Native Roots, Green Heart and Frosted Leaf all confirmed that robbers used the same tactic, with employees facing masked gunman while preparing to close their stores for the night. Cherry Peak co-owner Rita Tsalyuk says that a security guard at her store was able to scare off the robbers before anything was taken, but other stores haven't been as lucky.
Attorney John Goutell, general counsel for Frosted Leaf, says that robbers entered his client's store five minutes before closing on December 3, then one made employees get on the ground after some "over-the-top threatening with his gun."
"We didn't have any customers, but we had five female employees in the store. They were, pretty brutally, held at gunpoint and forced to the floor," he says. "We've had previous burglaries, but never anything during operating hours with the staff and the store."
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Goutell, a self-described gun enthusiast in his personal time, believes that the robbers were trained with firearms based on security footage from the Frosted Leaf robbery that shows a lookout waiting outside as the robbers grab cash and inventory from the dispensary. But he also thinks that they're lacking in cannabis training.
"You can tell when someone knows what they're doing, and these guys look they had military or firearms training from the way they were holding them," Goutell says. "But one comical thing was that when one guy stayed upstairs to keep employees on the floor, he's asking them what they should take and what the good stuff is.
They ended up grabbing the terrible stuff — they ended up grabbing a bunch of our sample jars, and you don't get a whole lot of weed doing that."
While the marijuana industry has become somewhat accustomed to the potential for burglaries at dispensaries and growing operations during off-hours, now owners and employees are becoming concerned about their safety at work, Goutell notes. Although legal pot operates largely in cash because of the plant's federal prohibition, he says that regulations and best practices push general managers to avoid keeping a lot cash on premises.
"A lot of these people read about all the [marijuana] tax revenue and reaching one billion in sales. It sounds like marijuana stores are making tons of money and the stores are filled with cash," Goutell explains. "The people in the business know it's a cash business, so steps are taken to ensure there's little cash sitting there to steal. If you're a robber thinking you're running into a dispensary and finding $100,000, you're not."