Updated: February 18, 2020 10:19 AM
Created: February 17, 2020 10:21 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - From an armed robbery of a medical marijuana dispensary in broad daylight to a midnight heist of a marijuana cultivation facility, criminals have targeted several cannabis businesses in New Mexico not for the cash but for the cannabis.
Over the past three months, the 4 Investigates team dug through stacks of internal state government emails, police records and video – which reveal a year’s worth of crimes targeting medical marijuana companies.
DISPENSARY ARMED ROBBERY
In September 2019, a masked gunman walked right through the front door of an Albuquerque medical marijuana dispensary called Everest Apothecary.
One employee called 911 to report the business had been robbed at gunpoint with workers and patients inside.
“He ran in and had me put everything in the bag and then he had everyone get down on their knees,” the employee told the operator. “He didn’t take any money he just took the cannabis.”
Surveillance video shows the masked gunman take off with the help of a getaway driver. The suspect got away with about $5,000 worth of medical grade marijuana.
GROW HOUSE HEIST
In May 2019, police were called in the middle of the night to a medical marijuana cultivation facility which is overseen by Reynold Greenleaf and Associates.
Officer lapel camera footage shows K9 officers scouring the facility. However, police say at least three crooks got away after snagging a handful of marijuana plants and damaging a few others.
EXPENSIVE PRODUCT STOLEN
In February 2019, someone shattered window to Cannabis Good in northeast Albuquerque and stole roughly $46,000 worth of marijuana products.
According to police records, while there were security cameras at the dispensary, a system upgrade had recently been completed and “it was possible the system was not re-set to record footage.”
We took our findings to Dominick Zurlo who is the director of the state’s medical cannabis program to ask him about the crimes reported to the agency.
Zurlo: “I would describe it as minimal.”
4 Investigator Nathan O’Neal: But there have been some serious incidents involving armed robberies where there were patients and workers held at gunpoint – how do you react to hearing about those types of incidents?
Zurlo: “I don’t think my reaction is any different than if I heard that occur in any other store or restaurant or any other location, it’s the same sort of situation.”
Currently the entire medical cannabis industry is regulated by the New Mexico Department of Health, which only has two broad rules when it comes to security.
“They are required to have a security plan and to have a security system in place,” said Zurlo.
New Mexico has a much more relaxed approach to security requirements compared to some states with robust medical or recreational programs.
For example, in Nevada the security requirements are exhaustive – from camera placement and lighting to backup security systems and training for security staff.
4 Investigator Nathan O’Neal: Some states require reinforced walls for the safe room, they require guards whether they be armed or not – are there any such requirements in New Mexico?
Zurlo: “We do require the product be locked up in a safe overnight… with regards to the rest of that, depending on the location that they have, the needs can be different for each location which is why we recommend and why we require them… to be able to show that they have a security plan so they can show that patients are safe, product is safe and their staff are safe.”
LACK OF COMMUNICATION?
Some leaders in the cannabis industry in New Mexico believe the health department should do more to help prevent potential crime which could include sending out an alert and photos of potential suspects when a crime targeting a cannabis business happens.
In a series of emails, William Ford of the consulting group Reynold Greenleaf and Associates wrote the health department expressing concerns.
“This information could be instrumental in helping us protect our employees and patients, and it seems irresponsible for the [state] not to provide as much information as possible,” said Ford in an internal email.
However, medical cannabis program director Zurlo told 4 Investigates that those types of communications are not the responsibility of the health department.
“We have no issues with the producers and the distributors talking about that with themselves – where we see that is, that’s a breakdown in communication among the community of the producers,” said Zurlo.
RECREATIONAL LEGALIZATION STALLS
While efforts at the Roundhouse to legalize recreational pot in New Mexico have stalled for now, there’s still an appetite to take what’s worked in other states to ensure safety at both grow operations and retail dispensaries.
“This is about ensuring that if you’re opening up a dispensary in your community, you’re also ensuring someone can’t break in take that product and put it back out on the market – and you’re keeping your employees and patients safe,” said Pat Davis who was chairman of the governor’s marijuana legalization work group.
“Maybe alerts to the industry, for example — that’s another good argument for legalization is that as we put this into a pro-industry department, we can expect some of those cool tools from other states,” said Davis.
However, for now, security will largely be left up to each individual business with little direction from the state. No changes in security may mean medical marijuana companies may deal with more problems with crime.
We reached out to several medical marijuana businesses including ones highlighted in this report. None of them responded to our requests for an interview.
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