“No big deal:” the real consequences of dealing marijuana in Lawrence

Published: 7 September 2014

Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, a new dialogue has begun across the country concerning the drug still recognized as an illegal substance in Kansas. Many have adopted a nonchalant attitude about marijuana, thinking that if it’s legal in some states it must be no big deal.

But phrases like “it’s only pot” or “he just sells weed” are cringe-worthy to those in the criminal justice field, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said — not necessarily because of the drug itself, but because of the violent crimes that come with the black market.

“No matter how you feel about drugs in this country and in this state, it is a problem of violent crime in our community that we have to try to resolve,” Branson said. “We’ve had three people killed in the last five years in home-invasion robberies for marijuana rip-offs.”

Lawrence Police Department spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley said that he’s had people say they have neighbors who deal drugs, but they don’t worry because it’s “only marijuana.” But don’t shrug it off like it’s a lemonade stand, McKinley said, because drug transactions have a tendency to attract violence.

“You don’t want someone like that living in your neighborhood because marijuana dealers are being targeted,” McKinley said, “and sometimes there’s gunfire.”

Drug robberies make up a big chunk of the steady growth of violent crime in Lawrence over recent years, McKinley said. There were 25 drug-related home-invasion robberies — when individuals forcibly enter a residence, threaten occupants with weapons and take money or drugs — between 2011 and 2013 alone, McKinley said.

“The motivations for nearly all home-invasion robberies are drug-related,” McKinley said. “Unless you’re engaged in this activity, you shouldn’t worry. You don’t see random targeting for this type of crime.”

There are multiple cases currently pending in Douglas County District Court concerning alleged home-invasion armed robberies, one of which led to a homicide in March.

Dustin Walker, 29, of Lawrence, and Archie Robinson, 29, of Topeka, are charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary after allegedly kicking in the door to 39-year-old Patrick Roberts’ Lawrence home, attempting to rob him, then shooting him when he wouldn’t comply, according to testimony from Walker’s preliminary hearing in May. Roberts later died from his injuries.

Roberts’ brother, Wayne Roberts, testified at the hearing that Patrick Roberts sold marijuana from his room, and a Lawrence detective, Zachariah Thomas, said investigators found two glass jars containing marijuana in a safe in the room.

Drug dealers are targeted for aggravated robberies because they are a cash business and are also less likely to report the crime for fear of self-incrimination, McKinley said.

“More go unreported because they have this quandary of ‘What am I going to do? Call the police and tell them my drugs were stolen?’” McKinley said.

Some believe the legalization of recreational marijuana would cut down on the frequency of these violent crimes. Defense attorney Casey Meek, of Joseph, Hollander and Craft LLC, said he has visited dispensaries in Colorado and has seen the strict regulations that help ensure safe marijuana transactions.

“There is state-of-the-art monitoring with security and cameras,” Meek said. “I don’t see a lot of bad in it.”

Legalization in Kansas would also help decrease the amount of crime, some argue, because instead of focusing on those with marijuana possession charges, the courts and police could be channeling their energy toward other serious crimes.

“Think of how much time that would save. It would allow the allocation of resources where they are better spent,” Meek said.

Meek said the majority of people who are arrested for possession of marijuana have less than 1 gram with them. If marijuana were legalized — or even decriminalized — in Kansas, Meek said, fewer people would be in jail.

“Let’s stop calling people drug dealers and arresting people,” Meek said. “They’re not ‘criminals’ — they’re otherwise everyday people like you and me.”

Branson said that the prosecution of simple possession of marijuana is “not a high priority” for his office because of limited resources. The main point, he said, is to go after those who deal because they are endangering themselves in the black market.

“The folks who are selling this stuff are just playing with dynamite,” Branson said. “The chances of them being robbed and potentially hurt or killed are very high.”

By Caitlin Doornbos

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