Under Colorado’s voter-approved law, it is legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Authorities are concerned that means illegal dealers and buyers believe they can avoid prosecution. These dealers and their customers also tend to be targets, if robbers know they are flush with cash.
Arapahoe County, outside Denver, has seen “a growing number of drug rips and outright burglaries and robberies of people who have large amounts of marijuana or cash on them,” said District Attorney George Brauchler.
His district has seen at least three homicides linked to pot in recent months and a rising number of robberies and home invasions.
Among them was a February case in which a 17-year-old boy said he accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend while robbing a man who had come to purchase weed.
Elsewhere, prosecutors say, Nathaniel Tallman, 25, was killed during a January drug deal when he was robbed and shot, and his body dumped in Wyoming.
The next month, a dealer mugged three people who were trying to buy marijuana from him in a Denver grocery store parking lot.
Such deals are the exception, said Vicente. The “average customer” prefers to buy in a well-lit, regulated store, he said, citing the roughly $2 million Colorado made in marijuana taxes in January alone.
Whether dangerous or not, it can still be cheaper to buy pot from a drug dealer.
Voters who approved recreational sales in Colorado also agreed to a 12.9 percent state sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax on it. Local jurisdictions can also add their own taxes. Medical marijuana is taxed, too, but at a much lower rate -- a 2.9 percent sales tax.
Those taxes mean an ounce of pot can go for $400 or more at a state-sanctioned store, depending on quality and potency. An ounce on the street can run between $200 and $280, depending on how much a dealer wants to profit, Comte said.