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Medical-marijuana-related crime is a problem, and could be worse than cops know, says drug-task-force commander

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Among those speaking about medical marijuana at last night's Fort Collins City Council meeting was Fort Collins Police Department Lt. Jerry Schiager, commander of the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force. In his remarks, he used a handful of grabby stats to contradict claims by weed advocates that the proliferation of medical marijuana doesn't cause an increase in crime.

"There have been at least five armed robberies, seven burglaries and one kidnapping" related to marijuana in the Fort Collins area over the past year and a half or so, Schiager says. "And those are only the ones we know about."

In his opinion, there could have been a lot more.

Schiager can't name any of the victims in these incidents, pointing out that "the medical-marijuana amendment prohibits me from disclosing the identity of anyone with a medical-marijuana license." However, he's able to discuss them in a general way.

"We think several of these incidents were related," he says. "Somehow these guys found out who some of the medical-marijuana providers were. That's what the kidnapping case was related to. A guy was kidnapped and forced to show these guys where caregivers or growers or whatever were living.

"We've also had cases where three armed guys come busting into a house where a caregiver lived in the middle of the night, looking for weed and money," he continues. "There have been some low-level actors involved in this. It kind of defies logic in some ways, these guys thinking they're going to score a lot of weed and money by going into caregivers' homes. It doesn't make much sense."

Schiager emphasizes that "I'm not one to say the sky's falling." Yet he also sees plenty of ingredients for trouble.

"You have a quasi-legal framework that's pretty underground, and in the case of some dispensaries and grow operations, there are large amounts of drugs and cash on hand. And that's really ripe for ripoffs, like it is with liquor stores or cigarette stores or those kinds of things. Those would be some of the higher percentage types of businesses to have problems like these."

In addition, Schiager thinks "there are probably a lot of crimes that are unreported or misreported. Say we go to a burglary call and someone says a house has been broken into, but they don't disclose that they were involved in medical marijuana. When that happens, we have no way of knowing that was the motive behind the crime. Sometimes we don't find that out until later, when we catch the suspect. And that's one of the challenges here.

"The unsettled nature of the law had contributed to this as well," he goes on. "Some people get victimized by crimes that are associated with certain kinds of businesses -- but it's not always clear what side of the law they fall on at any given time. People may feel, 'My place got broken into, but I don't really want the cops sniffing around, because I'm not really sure what I'm doing is legal.' I think that contributes to the crime problem, too."

Firmly establishing rules and regulations, as the Fort Collins City Council is attempting to do, should help, in Schiager's view. That way, "we'll know what the locations are and it'll be an above-board situation that can be confidently reported. People can say, 'I'm following the law and I was ripped off.'

"We've worked cases where someone will say, 'I got ripped off three times last year,' and we'll say, 'Really?,' because none of those things was reported," he notes. "They never generated a police report. And if we know about these things, we can do a lot more about them."

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