Was last night's "medical marijuana murder" really a medical marijuana murder?

View Larger Map The hard-boiled tale seems straight out of a gripping detective novel: Last night, just a few hours after Denver City Council discussed new regulations for the city's flourishing dispensary industry, a man was shot dead from what the cops are saying was a medical-marijuana transaction gone awry. (The location, on the 2600 block of North Leyden Street, is captured in the graphic above. If you have problems seeing the image, click "View Larger Map.")


With a plot line like that, no wonder the story's spreading around the country, including an AP story in the Boston Herald. Surely the other seven murders that have occurred in the city in the past two weeks aren't getting the same attention, since they don't have juicy words like "medical marijuana" attached to them.

But the question remains: Was the murder last night really related to medical marijuana?

In news stories, police indicate the shooting was tied to a medical marijuana sale. And Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson, in a recent phone conversation, said the same thing: "I think the detectives are confident that the location [of the shooting] is involved in some capacity with medical marijuana."

But since the investigation is ongoing, Jackson can't relate the details as to why detectives believe such a thing -- and in an attention-grabbing situation like this, those details are key.

According to the police press release on the incident, a second man who was also shot in the fight walked into the Denver Health Medical Center last night and "Through the investigation, detectives learned that the two men were conducting a Medical Marijuana transaction at the residence when an altercation occurred." So did the man at the hospital, whose name hasn't been released, tell the officers it was a medical marijuana transaction? Is there any other proof it was medical marijuana related, and not just a run-of-the-mill drug transaction? Did the victim or suspects have medical-marijuana IDs? Did they have histories of drug dealing? After all, if I were in a drug deal gone awry, I'd probably say it was for medical marijuana, too.

The murder may very well be connected to medical marijuana. People are making a lot of money these days with medical marijuana, and where there's money, there's crime and violence. But it would be nice to have a little more info before the headlines started rolling and politicians started calculating how to best use it to their advantage.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner