DA Morrissey defends medical marijuana violence claims

DENVER — District Attorney Mitch Morrissey isn’t backing away from his contention Monday during remarks to the city council that the medical marijuana industry has been linked to a dozen homicides and more than 100 armed robberies.

Pressed by the Denver Post Tuesday, Morrissey admitted that those statistics were “loose figures” and that the crimes referenced didn’t all occur in medical marijuana retail facilities.

“Some of these go back to the beginning of medical marijuana in Colorado, more than a decade,” Morrissey told FOX31 Denver Wednesday. “There have definitely been 12 homicides.”

One armed robbery took place in October 2010, when Myles Stephens ambushed employees of a dispensary on East Colfax Avenue as they were leaving work, forced them back inside and down into the basement.

“[He] lays them down, puts a gun to the manager’s head and says ‘open the safe’,” Morrissey said.

A year later, investigators linked two double homicides, both of which started with two men looking to rob medical marijuana dispensaries or licensed dealers working out of their homes.

Jovan Rivers and Harrell King were both shot and killed on March 31, 2011 when they broke into the Sable Landing Condos and tried to rob Athina Munoz, a licensed caregiver who just happened to return fire with an assault rifle.

Based on ballistics from shots fired by Rivers and King, investigators linked the duo to a double homicide a week earlier at the Windsor Court Apartments, where five people were laid down on the floor and two of them were fatally shot execution-style.

“We hear about the shootings, but people don’t know there’s a connection to marijuana,” Morrissey said.

Often, that’s because cases remain unsolved.

Nearly all of these crimes highlight a larger issue that’s to blame for much of the violence around the industry: state licensed medical marijuana retailers unable, due to federal banking regulations, to put their money in the bank.

“It’s an all-cash business,” Morrissey said. “These criminals don’t set out to rob dispensaries of their plants. They go after the cash, and often times there’s a lot of cash to be had.”

Medical Marijuana Industry Group’s Mike Elliott didn’t appreciate Morrissey’s characterization of the violence within the industry, but he too believes that some violent crime will continue to impact marijuana retailers until Congress can resolve the conflict between state marijuana laws and federal banking laws that prohibit lending institutions from serving marijuana businesses.

“Banking is just such an incredible challenge, because a lot of other businesses: they’ve got banks,” Elliott said earlier this week. “We just want to be treated like every other business.”

Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, has introduced legislation that would do that, the “Commonsense Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act.”

“We need to address the public safety, crime and lost tax revenue associated when these legal and regulated businesses are operating in a cash-only system,” said Perlmutter in a press release announcing the bill earlier this month. “We also need to provide financial institutions assurance that they can make their own business decisions related to legal, financial transactions without fear of regulatory penalties or criminal prosecution.”

The bill has a bipartisan group of 16 sponsors in the House, but it’s not clear yet when it might get an actual vote.

“If you took the large quantities of cash out of this, I think it would be a safer industry,” Morrissey said.


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