The Denver Police Department was so frustrated with unsolved burglaries at marijuana businesses earlier this summer that it asked the public for help in identifying a group of suspects accused of a string of smash-and-grabs. Over two months later, the police are still looking for clues...and the burglaries continue.
The number of marijuana business burglaries in Denver hasn't really spiked, with 118 attempted burglaries in 2018, only three more than in 2014, according to DPD data. And as of July, there have been only 43 reported incidents this year. But the reported robberies in 2019 "tend to involve" the same suspects driving stolen Jeep Liberties and Cherokees, according to the DPD's public alert.
Westword spoke with a handful of local marijuana businesses about the attempted burglaries at their respective stores. One dispensary executive says that the Jeep burglars broke into the same south Denver location on three separate occasions this year, typically using a crowbar to enter the store before running off with whatever they could find.
"They seem to be young or amateur, because they just grab our live resin, or whatever they can find — which isn't much — and run off with it. It's not like we're keeping any money in there at night," he explains. "But it looks like the same people each time."
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Although dispensaries are easy to locate, they're not very fertile ground for thieves. Most pot shops lock up their inventory as well as their money at night, explains the founder of one of Denver's larger dispensary chains. "If only the bad guys would realize that we safe-room all of our THC products, [then] it would save a lot of early-morning glass sweeping," he says, adding that "the pros hit the grows, not dispensaries."
Lieutenant Andrew Howard, who has been investigating marijuana crimes for the DPD since 2012, agrees that storefronts aren't the main targets for cannabis-related crimes, since they generally don't hold large amounts of cash during off-hours and usually have armed guards while open in high-traffic areas. Grow operations are the subject of most of the calls that police receive, he says, and that includes reports involving the Jeep burglaries.
"In the Jeep instances, they mostly [happened at] grows, not storefronts. But those are often at the same location," Howard explains. "For most experiences, these are happening at the grow, because the products are more accessible there."
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While some burglars pry open doors, other burglaries are inside jobs by former employees or temporary staffers. Last year, burglars broke through a brick wall housing a wholesale marijuana cultivation in Aurora, according to the operation's managing grower. That crime was reported to law enforcement — but not all of them are.
Howard believes that a large portion of attempted burglaries at marijuana businesses go unreported because of the plant's federally illegal status and strict state and local regulations; that affects DPD statistics. "They don't report them, so it's very difficult to get an accurate number," he says.
Otherwise, dispensaries and grows do a good job of keeping themselves secure overall, Howard says.
"They put these deterrents in place, so the average criminal will go for lower-lying fruit," he explains. "Dispensaries seem to do a good job [with security], but sometimes the burglary information could be leaked through some sort of inside information."