Aurora guard’s slaying a reminder of pot shops’ cash-heavy security risks

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AURORA | The slaying over the weekend of a security guard at an Aurora marijuana shop has shone a light on an issue that has bedeviled marijuana retailers since legal weed sales started.

Shops don’t have much access to banks because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, so the businesses generally operate cash-only. Those large sums of cash on hand make the stores inviting spots for thieves.

“This incredibly sad situation underscores the public safety risk faced by our industry due to the fact that we don’t have access to banking,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group.

In the Aurora case, the Arapahoe County coroner’s office identified the security guard killed at Green Heart Marijuana Dispensary as 24-year-old Travis Steven Mason.

Mason was shot three times, including once in the head, the coroner said.

Police say they were called to Green Heart Saturday night on a report of a robbery and shots fired at the store.

There, police found Mason. He was later pronounced dead after being taken to a nearby hospital.

Elliott said legislators need to pass laws allowing the industry access to banks.

“This safety issue is something everyone working in the industry faces and there is a simple fix. Congress needs to allow our legal, tax-paying industry the same access to banking that every other legitimate business sector has,” he said. 

Tim Cullen, owner of Colorado Harvest Company, said security is always a top-of-mind issue in the industry.

“We treat security a lot like a bank treats security,” he said.

At his three shops — including one in Aurora on East Yale Avenue near Parker Road — Cullen said the law mandates certain security measures, including surveillance cameras and alarms.

The stores have more security than that, Cullen said, but he didn’t want to discuss those measures publicly.

Cullen said that as long as shops can’t take credit cards the way a typical retailer does, marijuana retailers are going to have to be concerned about security.

“Those guys were a target because there is no access to banking,” he said.

But, Cullen said, the perception that pot shops have stacks of cash sitting around isn’t an accurate one. In the very early days of legal marijuana sales that may have been the case, he said, but stores have evolved overtime and rarely have large quantities of cash on hand.

Retailers rely on regularly-scheduled deposits off site, he said, and time-locked safes similar to the ones convenience stores use.

“There’s not a million dollars laying on the floor in any dispensary,” he said.

Police announced Monday that a combined $12,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the gunmen who killed Mason. Police said Euflora, a neighboring dispensary, pledged $3,000 in reward money, the ATF pledged $5,000, Crime Stoppers pledged $2,000 and the Aurora Police Reward Fund pledged $2,000.

Investigators with APD’s Major Crimes/Homicides Unit and Crime Scene Investigations Unit are handling the case. After evaluating the scene, they concluded that the suspects are two black males who were armed with handguns. There has been no further description of the suspects at this time, nor details about what was taken in the robbery.

Aurora police ask that anyone with information about the incident call Agent Matthew Ingui with the Major Crimes/Homicide Unit at 303-739-6067. Tipsters can also call Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867. Tipsters who call Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward.