In Denver, Colorado, dispensary break-ins are pretty much par for the course. So far this year, police have reported around 35 break-ins at weed shops in the greater metro area. That’s more than one dispensary burglary each week, and about as many as police reported at this point last year. But now, police are investigating a new team of dispensary thieves that are bringing a new meaning to the term highway robbery. Investigators say a well-coordinated group of three to four, or possibly six people are robbing dispensaries along the area’s major highways. So far, the break-in investigation hasn’t made any breakthroughs. And fearing the dispensary burglars will soon strike again, Denver Police have issued a special alert to cannabis shop owners.

Denver Police Put City Dispensaries on “High Alert”

On Wednesday, Denver Police released the first picture of a group of car thieves and dispensary burglars that are wreaking havoc on Denver weed shops. The surveillance camera photo doesn’t reveal the identity of any of the burglars. They’re too well-concealed for that. But the photo clearly identifies the vehicle the burglars are using: a Jeep recently reported stolen.

Denver Police say the MO of the group involves stealing Jeeps then breaking into weed shops after hours. Using simple smash-and-grab tactics, the group is prying open dispensary doors and then just grabbing everything within reach.

Investigators believe the same group is responsible for dispensary break-ins across the whole Denver metropolitan area. But many of their robberies have targeted dispensaries located along interstates 70 and 25, the major highways running through Denver. The close proximity of the dispensaries to the highways makes for an easy getaway.

Legal Cannabis Shops May Be Linked to Higher Levels of Property Crime

Arguments for legalization often make the case that ending the criminalization of cannabis will reduce violent drug-related crime and make communities safer. And while it does appear to be the case that legalization hasn’t led to an increase in violent crime, it may be contributing to higher levels of property crime like break-ins, vandalism and robberies.

According to a three-year study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, legal marijuana shops are causing higher levels of property crime in Denver. It’s not that crime is higher in the area immediately surrounding cannabis shops. Instead, it’s the adjacent areas that are experiencing higher rates of property crimes per year than neighborhoods without a nearby dispensary. According to researchers, areas near weed shops saw about 84 more property crimes per year over a three year period.

Alcohol Shops Still Cause More Crime than Weed Shops in Denver

Denver’s ongoing string of dispensary robberies is raising serious concerns about legalization and public safety, especially among opponents and skeptics. But putting the 34 dispensary robberies in Denver this year in context shows that in terms of crime, alcohol retailers impact community safety more than cannabis dispensaries do.

Data from the Ohio State University study shows that marijuana outlets contributed to 1,579 property crimes in Denver over 34 months. Comparatively, alcohol outlets contributed to 1,521 property crimes over the same period. But it was alcohol outlets that were responsible for roughly four times more violent crimes (372) than shops that sold marijuana (93) over the 34 month period.

So even though studies link legal marijuana sales to an increase in burglaries and other crimes at marijuana outlets themselves, weed sales aren’t making Denver communities any less safe than alcohol shops do.

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