Though cannabis has seen tremendous progress in terms of legislative reform and cultural acceptance in America over the last decade, the emerging industry still faces a number of roadblocks on the path to prohibition’s end. One Colorado man has seemingly hit all of these roadblocks on his descent from hopeful cannabis entrepreneur to a convicted criminal.
From banking restrictions that discriminate against legal businesses and create cash-flooded environments vulnerable to robbery, to a commercially driven pharmaceutical industry that fights cannabis reform and allows the opioid epidemic to flourish, the effects of prohibition are still painfully present.
Rocky Pedersen, a former dispensary owner in Longmont, Colo., has experienced these pains firsthand — and inflicted them on others in return. The whole saga reads like a fictional fable to demonstrate to future generations just how messed up the cannabis landscape can be without the proper legislation in place to address the industry’s complex problems.
Many parts of Pederson’s unfortunate story reflect a microcosm of issues that plague the cannabis community today.
Pederson was sentenced earlier this month to 14 years in prison for an AR-15-assisted string of dispensary robberies that spanned from October 2016 to February 2017. After being apprehended last year, he faced 35 charges, including eight counts of aggravated robbery and four counts of attempted murder, among a laundry list of other acts of violence.
Opioids aren’t the only factor driving a rise in violent crime, however, as federal cannabis prohibition prevents banking institutions from accepting the cannabis community into the financial fold, forcing businesses to deal in cash. This leaves these operations highly susceptible to violent crime, as these buildings become treasure chests in the eyes of criminals, filled with valuable product and hordes of cash.
But one of the prosecutors in Pederson’s case isn’t so quick to write off the crime spree as heroin-fueled. While addiction accounted for some of the desperation, Senior Deputy District Attorney Yvette Guthrie said she believes vengeance played a major part in Pederson’s motive.
“Drugs were part of the issue, but it was more than that,” Guthrie said. “He went into these businesses angry because he had lost his business and wanted revenge. He terrorized these people. He entered their stores carrying an assault rifle, shoved it in their faces and told them to get on the floor.”
Nobody knew better than Pederson what his targets held within their walls because he was one of them not too long ago, having owned and operated New Age Wellness, a dispensary that was itself robbed by masked gunmen in 2013 for more than $10,000 worth of cannabis.
The convicted armed robber hit five cannabis businesses (one of them twice) and one liquor store. His return visit to one target was a critical mistake, as the business owner had upped his security by purchasing a gun that he then used to shoot Pederson in his leg, which ultimately resulted in his arrest at the hospital.
But where Pederson was misguided was that fellow dispensary owners weren’t the cause of his business closing. That responsibility lies with lawmakers, who banned legal cannabis shops from operating within the city of Longmont in 2011 ahead of the state legalizing recreational marijuana the following year. The dispensary ban was lifted in the fall of 2017 after many in the city realized consumers were simply shopping elsewhere and Longmont might as well reap the fiscal benefits that their fellow cities were.
The lifting of the dispensary ban in Longmont comes too little too late for Rocky Pederson, whose story serves as a reminder of multiple open wounds the cannabis industry must heal before it can be considered truly successful.