Marijuana Shop: Young Veterans Find Purpose as Cannabis Watchmen in Colorado

In Colorado, a curious marriage has formed between the booming retail cannabis industry — legal in the state since 2014, but not in the eyes of the federal government — and young war veterans, more than 200 of whom have jobs protecting marijuana businesses across the state. DENVER — It’s nighttime at the Herbal Cure, a south Denver marijuana shop and grow house tucked into a parking lot beside the highway. Inside is a marijuana bounty: thousands of dollars’ worth of cannabis plants, boxes of marijuana-infused chocolate, jars of $360-an-ounce weed with names like Frankenberry, Lemon Skunk and Purple Cheddar.

Chris Bowyer, a lanky combat veteran turned cannabis security guard, is outside. He has a .40-caliber pistol on his hip and a few extra magazines stored away, and he is talking about his work on the battlefield. Not the one in Iraq — the one in Colorado, where criminals seeking to breach marijuana businesses face veterans trying to stop them.

“This is my therapy,” Bowyer said, heading for a place where burglars broke in recently. He checked a fence for signs of a new incursion, then headed to an office to note the night’s activities in a rigorously organized logbook. “This is what we did in the military.”

In Colorado, a curious marriage has formed between the booming retail cannabis industry — legal in the state since 2014, but not in the eyes of the federal government — and young war veterans, more than 200 of whom have taken jobs protecting marijuana businesses across the state. They spend their days and nights in urban marijuana shop and suburban warehouses and on rural farms, warding off the burglars who have become hallmarks of this cash-heavy, high-value business.

For some, a cannabis security job is a way station toward the police department or law school. For others, it is a vocation with purpose, a union of two outsider groups leaning on each other in a nation uncertain about how to accept them. “It’s almost a kindred spirit kind of thing,” said Bowyer, 30, sitting in an office with a computer, a bulletproof vest and a booklet detailing marijuana products marketed under the name Jimi Hendrix.

Marijuana growers and sellers “recognize that there is another group of guys who have their own talents,” he said, “and that we are here for them.” The owners of Colorado’s 978 marijuana shop licenses and 1,393 marijuana grow licenses are particularly vulnerable. Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, many banks won’t work with cannabis businesses, forcing them to deal in mountains of cash.

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