When weed was legalized in Colorado, critics and some in the marijuana industry worried a wave of pot shop robberies might follow. Now new statistics released by the state suggest these concerns were overblown.
So far this year, robberies and burglaries of pot providers in Denver are actually on the decline, heading for the lowest level in three years.
Between January and May, there were 53 burglaries and one robbery at the 700 licensed recreational and medical marijuana shops in Denver. That means the city can expect about 130 robberies and burglaries this year.
Last year Denver saw 147 such crimes against cannabis businesses. The year before, there were 170.
“This situation could be a lot worse,” said Michael Elliot, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “But it’s still a lot of burglaries, whether it’s more or less than it was last year.”
Pot Shops Still in Danger
Despite the drop in crimes against pot shops, the providers remain ripe targets for robbery and burglary.
Medical cannabis was legalized under Colorado state law in 2000 and recreational weed in 2012, but the federal government still prohibits the drug for any purpose. The government also bars banks and other financial institutions from doing business with people suspected of breaking federal law, such as pot shop owners.
With no credit and nowhere to store their profit, stores are forced to handle and transport large amounts of cash. Though robberies are rare, cultivators, processors, and sellers live in constant fear of violent crime.
The Obama administration made a half-hearted effort to resolve the situation earlier this year, announcing new guidelines that allow banks to work with weed businesses. But bankers have widely declined to participate, saying the guidelines don’t adequately protect them from liability.
“We’ve got to keep working on this,” Elliott said. “It’s scary.”
Burglaries and Robberies Down Overall
It’s not clear why robberies and burglaries are down at Denver pot shops. Elliott said state-imposed security requirements, together with a growing number of security guards in the business, could make the shops less inviting to criminals.
But robberies and burglaries overall are on a downward trend in Denver, and that alone could explain the drop in weed-related crimes. By the end of April, the city saw 1,453 burglaries and 336 robberies – compared with 1,527 burglaries and 352 robberies during the same period last year.
“We don’t have one real answer, but we look to the economy and other factors as to why crime goes up and down,” said Sonny Jackson, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department. “Traditionally, it’s been trending downward for the last few years.”
All Crime Down in Denver
Still, the new data is good news for the legal cannabis industry in Colorado. Dire predictions that crime waves would follow legalization simply haven’t come to pass – and it doesn’t look likely they will anytime soon.
According to city officials, crime is down across the board since the start of the year. That includes property crimes and every type of violent crime. Though weed may not be directly responsible for the decline, it certainly hasn’t driven up the crime rate in Denver.
“Every major institution said this would be horrible and lead to violence and blood in the streets,” said Brian Vicente, one of the authors of the constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado. “None of that’s happened. The sky did not fall.”