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Does Angelo Renfrow Shooting Prove Marijuana Sales Can Be Deadly?

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Law-enforcement opponents of the 2012 marijuana measure Amendment 64 predicted that crime would escalate if the measure was approved.

In contrast, A64 backers argued that crime would actually go down as a result of limited pot sales being legalized.

After voters gave their blessing to the amendment, the debate continued, as shown earlier this year, when the cannabis reformers argued that crime had gone down since A64's passage and a prominent police organization disagreeing.

The latest shot in this battle has been fired by First Judicial District DA Peter Weir, who used the occasion of Angelo Renfrow's conviction for attempted murder in a marijuana sale gone wrong to suggest that pot and violent crime are often connected.

According to the DA's office, the incident took place on November 13, 2013. Renfrow is said to have driven from Aurora to Lakewood to buy more than $5,000 worth of marijuana from 24-year-old Steven Jaco.

The pair rendezvoused in the parking lot of West Jewell in Lakewood, with Renfrow climbing into Jaco's car following his arrival, the DA's office maintains. But when Jaco reached behind him to get the cannabis, Renfrow reportedly pressed his gun to Jaco's chest and fired, after which he took the pot and split.

Being shot from close range should have been fatal. But the DA's office reveals that the bullet deflected off Jaco's sternum — and he survived the wound.

In February, Renfrow pleaded guilty to attempted murder and aggravated robbery — and he's now been sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Afterward, DA Weir released the following statement: "This is a tragic example of a young person thinking it would be harmless to engage in the sale of marijuana. Unfortunately, the purchase, sale and use of marijuana is a steady theme that runs through a large number of cases filed with our office. People must remember that the personal sale of marijuana is illegal, and can be deadly."

Other crimes related to personal pot sales have certainly cropped up over time. Take the case of Lucas Johnson, who was accused earlier this year of killing pot grower Ed Zimmerman in Routt County.

But are incidents like these rare exceptions as opposed to the rule? A Drug Policy Alliance status report released in February suggests that they are, at least in Denver.

An excerpt from the document reads: "According to data released by the City of Denver, violent crime and property crime in Denver decreased in 2014. Violent crime in Denver went down by 2.2% in the first 11 months of 2014, compared with the first 11 months of 2013. In the same period, burglaries in Denver decreased by 9.5% and overall property crime decreased by 8.9%."

Afterward, Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area director Tom Gorman accused the DPA of cherry-picking stats to prove its point. An RMHIDTA release sent out after the document was made public states: "According to Denver Police Department's National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), total reported crimes for all categories, not just the few selected by the Drug Policy Alliance, shows an overall increase of 8.6 percent from 2012 through 2013, the first year recreational marijuana was legalized. The increase continued through 2014 with a 2.5 percent increase from 2013."

Of course, even Gorman acknowledges that not all these crimes were marijuana-related, making it difficult to know who's closer to right based on the basic data.

As for the Renfrow case, Weir's broad terminology — lumping together the purchase, sale and use of marijuana, for instance — is as apt to fire up pot haters as it is to inspire advocates to maintain that legalization makes such incidents less likely.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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