When Ken Gorman, Denver's loudest pot advocate, was shot and killed in February 2007 (a story told in theWestword
feature "High Times
"), the pool of suspects seemed endless.
But one rumor topped all other conjecture. Thomas Lawrence, Gorman's former business partner, was somehow involved in the murder.
But Lawrence tells Westword he "loved" Ken, was sad to hear he was killed, and had nothing at all to do with the killing.
"I've never toted a gun in my life," Lawrence said last week in a Denver coffee shop. "I don't even like guns."
Lawrence is a noteworthy early advocate of marijuana himself. After police confiscated his medical pot in 2005, he successfully fought to get it returned and even received an apology from Denver police -- it was the first time a Colorado law enforcement agency had ever been ordered to give back "drugs" to a citizen. He says Gorman taught him the ropes.
"I believe in what I do," the 36-year-old says, echoing the same anti-prohibition selling points Gorman often shared with his disciples. "I believed 100 percent in what Ken was doing. He definitely helped my perspective of what cannabis could be."
Shortly after Colorado voters passed Amendment 20 in 2000, Gorman and Lawrence ventured to create what would become the state's first dispensary: The Colorado Compassion Club.
"The first fifteen people on the registry -- I had ten of them," says Lawrence, who would move on to act as caregiver to more than a hundred patients. "Ken gave them to me. Everybody called Ken."
The two, along with Lawrence's ex-wife, Larissa, held weekly information sessions in a Denver church to educate potential patients how to reap the benefits of the ambiguous pot law. And in the parking lot outside the church -- out of respect, Lawrence says -- the group sold pot to patients.
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Circa 2003, the two had an argument over how to split the proceeds of the legal drug-sale business, and Gorman left the club to start his own venture out of his home on the 1000 block of S. Decatur. But Gorman's family believes it was Lawrence who caused the falling out -- that he had tried to take more than his share in the venture.
Lawrence notes that Gorman was too involved in the street side of peddling marijuana and was openly willing to sign up anyone and everyone, whether they were afflicted or not, to become a patient. "It was just important for the movement to move forward to have that segregation. We couldn't have the street side. It couldn't be in your house, around a bunch of gang-bangers."
Lawrence distanced himself from Gorman, though the two occasionally spoke over lunch. "In order for us to move on it had to be legit," he adds. "It couldn't be both. Ken didn't want to be a legit person; it was a political platform for him."
Ultimately, many suspect it was Gorman's company and radical politics that were to blame for his death. And his antics -- like his "Asshole of the Week" hotline diatribes and hisIt's a Cannabis Christmas CD" -- often landed him in the news, and in the sights of both moderate pot advocates and staunch prohibitionists.
Similarly, Lawrence believes the company he kept led to him becoming an unofficial suspect in the murder.
"I put my neck out for everybody," he says, referring to patients and caregivers. "In order to do that, I had to deal with some unsavory people. I had drive-by shootings at my house."
After Gorman was killed in 2007, many pointed the finger at Lawrence, and while he was never arrested, an article in Playboy magazine a year later further explored the suspicion that he wanted Gorman out of the way. After that, Lawrence went underground. Many suspected he returned to his hometown of Washington, D.C., furthering fueling the rumors that he must be hiding something.
But Lawrence says although stress caused him to abandon his visibility in the scene, he never really left, excluding a year-long trip through Amsterdam and some brief stints in jail for drugs and a dropped car-theft charge. In fact, Gorman's former business partner is still making his mark in Denver's booming pot scene.
With some financial backing, Lawrence is a partner and the chef behind "Weedy Wonca's," a line of cannabis infused drinks and snacks sold wholesale to area dispensaries.
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And on one of the products, "TeaHC" Raspberry tea, the label includes a tribute to Gorman: "In memory of Ken 'Pot Gov' Gorman."
With colorful commercial packaging that even includes nutrition facts (unlike the cellophane-wrapped edibles available at many dispensaries), Lawrence says he hopes to make his own mark on Denver' pot movement. The concessions, made from a kitchen at 20th and Vine, go for about $3 to $5 a pop.
But in the wake of Gorman's death, he says he is persona non grata in the eyes of the pot community.
"It's really disrespectful for people to just implicate something like that," he says. "I loved that man. It is what it is."