Longform

Three years after his murder, memories of Ken Gorman -- Colorado's most vocal pot activist -- have gone up in smoke

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Corry notes that although the marijuana-legalization effort was moving away from Gorman, "he paid his dues more than anybody else in this movement."


Gorman spent nearly two years in prison before being released to the care of a halfway house, where he served the remainder of his time. But by 2003, he'd jumped back into the green rush, this time with a different angle that better fit the times.

In 2004, he and business partner Thomas Lawrence created the Colorado Compassion Club, which routinely held informational sessions, explaining how people could exploit the loosely worded medical marijuana law. Gorman and Lawrence later split, however, and Gorman created his own outfit, the 420 Compassion Club, which he ran out of his home.

Although it wasn't labeled as such, the club was an early underground dispensary. Gorman began moving pounds of pot each week, which he acquired from Mexican dealers, and he even began growing his own. His sole source of income, it had all the risks of any criminal drug enterprise; the only difference was that patients could flash their cards to police and get away scot-free. But unlike street-corner drug dealers, gangs or criminal syndicates, Gorman freely broadcast his business in social circles and on sites like Yahooka.com and kept his marijuana nursery in plain view: Exposure was the key to legitimization, he told his clients. With what many say was his inflated ego, he even dared to keep his door unlocked.

But Gorman was no amateur when it came to handling the streets.

Dominic Mestas, who was only fifteen when he found his "mentor and a father figure" in Gorman, says he and Gorman were the biggest pot dealers in the state before Gorman went to prison – and there was nothing medical about it. "We dealt tons of weed. That's what we did. We were the biggest dealers because of who Ken was," he says.

Mestas lived in the duplex unit adjacent to Gorman's; he says they used some of their profits to fund the rallies at the State Capitol. "Ken was just all about smoking pot. Then he heard about the medical aspect. The medical aspect took over for him."

After Gorman got out of prison, he and Mestas went back into business together, but it wasn't the same. "I kind of got worried for him," Mestas remembers, "because you can only invite so many people into your home." He even purchased a security camera for Gorman, which he displayed in his living room but never hooked up.

In the end, Gorman's trust and his lack of security contributed to his death.

On February 11, 2007, Channel 4 aired a news segment in which he showed off his plants and offered up his patients for interviews. Six days later, he was killed.


Who killed Ken Gorman, and who were the two men seen fleeing the scene?

The predominant theories revolve around the gaggle of gang members Gorman kept as company.

"As long as I can remember, he had just an entourage of younger men who idolized him," Valency says. "Even to the day he was shot, he had a Vietnamese gang that was constantly there and loved him. He took in these kids who just had shitty lives. In his subtle way, he had an influence on their lives.... He had no fear. He would just kind of laugh in the face of all the craziness going on. I didn't feel safe going there."

One popular theory was given weight in a March 2008 Playboy article that focused on Lawrence, Gorman's former business partner in the Colorado Compassion Club. Lawrence, an ex-convict with an extensive rap sheet including hard-drug convictions and car theft, had reportedly ripped Gorman off, brewing bad blood between the two and their respective cliques. After the article was published, police opened up an investigation into Lawrence, but nothing has so far come of it. Lawrence, who many believe to have left the state, could not be reached for this article.

Diana McKindley, a close friend and medical marijuana student of Gorman's, says that shortly before his death, Gorman told her that he'd suspected one of his young disciples of stealing some of his pot and had banished him from the group. Her guess is that's the guy who killed him, but she never knew his real name. "I called him Boston because of the way he looked," she says. "The black leather boots, the jacket, the accent."

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane