Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey raised eyebrows Monday when speaking before a City Council meeting suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries are a haven for violent crime.
"We have had 12 homicides related directly to medical marijuana," Morrissey said on Monday. "We have had over 100 aggravated robberies and home invasions. Many of you probably didn't read about the double-execution-style homicide that we had here in Denver, where people were laid down on the floor and executed because they were running a medical marijuana outlet."
"This is an ugly secret," Morrissey added.
Morrissey's set of facts was questioned and on Tuesday when pressed by The Denver Post the DA walked back his initial comments saying the numbers he cited were "loose figures" and that none of the alleged homicides took place at established medical marijuana facilities.
But the DA is not entirely backing down from his initial statements, saying to KDVR on Wednesday, "Some of these go back to the beginning of medical marijuana in Colorado, more than a decade. There have definitely been 12 homicides.”
Elaborating on an a set of killings that took place in 2011 that Morrissey linked to the marijuana industry, he said, “We hear about the shootings, but people don’t know there’s a connection to marijuana." Watch Eli Stokols interview with Morrissey above.
Now marijuana advocates are firing back at Morrissey's comments. Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project and key player in the Yes on 64 effort in Colorado which legalized marijuana for recreational use, told The Huffington Post that Morrissey is "playing fast and loose with the facts" surrounding medical marijuana and crime in Colorado.
"Morrissey's suggestion that the state- and locally regulated medical marijuana industry is somehow at fault for crimes that occurred entirely outside of its scope is ludicrous and irresponsible," Tvert said. "I cannot imagine any other instance in which he would place blame for violent crimes on law-abiding businesses and citizens who have fallen victim to them."
"If these crimes are occurring and the public never hears about them, as he has suggested," Tvert added, "it is indicative of his and other law enforcement officials' failure to prevent such crimes and maintain public awareness. In other words, it suggests they –- and not the medical marijuana industry –- need to change the way they're doing business."
The Denver Post also looked into the crime related to medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver and found that although nearly one-third of the crimes committed in Denver do occur within 1,000 feet of a pot dispensary, the data provided by the city showed no evidence that the existence of marijuana dispensaries a given area are driving up crime in the surrounding neighborhoods nor that crime at dispensaries is increasing.
And it looks like relatively low crime or at least not significantly more crime in and around dispensaries has been the case in Denver for years. In a 2009 Denver Police Department survey revealed that robbery and burglary rates at dispensaries were lower than area banks and liquor stores and on par with those of pharmacies.
In 2010, DPD again looked at crime rates in and around dispensaries -- that analysis showed that in the first half of 2010 crime was down relative to the same period of 2009. And that decrease was comparable to the city's overall drop in crime during that same period.
During that same year in Colorado Springs, police conducted a similar survey and found that robbery and burglary rates at area dispensaries were similar to that of other non-marijuana-related area businesses. “It’s all going to depend on what the person is looking to steal,” Sgt. Darrin Abbink, CSPD spokesperson told The Gazette about the findings. “I don’t think the data really supports (dispensaries) are more likely to be targeted at this point. There’s not really enough information yet.”
MPP's Tvert also said that despite Morrissey's questionable claims, he does highlight some problems that are often associated with marijuana prohibition laws -- laws that Morrissey himself fought to maintain when he opposed Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado last November.
"If Morrissey is truly concerned about enhancing public safety, he should be testifying in support of policies that will eliminate the underground marijuana market and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated like alcohol," Tvert said. "He should not be resorting to scare tactics and reefer madness. Voters in Denver and throughout Colorado have made it clear they want to change the way our cities and state handle marijuana. It is time for Mr. Morrissey and other elected officials to follow their lead and give up on the failed policy of marijuana prohibition."