A white armored truck chugs along Interstate 25 North in Denver, taking the snaking highway slow and steady. After all, there's close to 50 pounds of cannabis and tens of thousands of dollars in the back.
Once off the highway, the driver swings the vehicle through a back alley to a dispensary's back entrance. The driver and passenger side door open and two former U.S. military veterans clad in sunglasses, tight black long-sleeved shirts, and khaki military pants--and strapped with handguns--hop out and open the truck's side door. They throw black body-sized rucksacks over their shoulders and wait until the dispensary's back door is unlocked. They then bring the product to a safe room to be checked against the manifest, the official government-tracked order a dispensary must put through to get its cannabis delivered from a grow house.
All around Denver on and in the runup to Monday, April 20, Blue Line Protection Group's small fleet of trucks are dropping off dozens of pounds of pot to 30 different dispensaries to ensure none runs out on one of the biggest sales days of the year. 4/20, which started as a pot smoker's secret holiday to celebrate the herb and advocate legalization, is now a major industry event in Colorado, drawing thousands of tourists and providing a platform for a weekend of gatherings, conventions, and concerts across the city. Blue Line, as well as restocking the dispensaries and transporting cash to banks and vaults, ensures its clients comply with all laws and offers protection against robberies.
"We are making sure Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division doesn't need to come into the shops, and the MED is making sure the federal government stays out of Denver's industry," Dominic Powelson, a Navy veteran and a security supervisor with Blue Line, says after he drops off 10 pounds of pot and leaves with $30,000 in cash to bring to a safe location. "We are the backbone of the industry."
Blue Line's services to dispensaries and grow houses are helping pot businesses get past the days of back-door deals and underground operations. The company adds a layer of logistical processes--security, armed delivery, and compliance--the marijuana industry didn't have before.
Blue Line was founded by two former Colorado police officers, and 80 percent of its employees are ex-law enforcement and military. The irony of erstwhile law enforcement agents helping to protect and legitimize the industry isn't lost on Powelson and his partner, army veteran Ryan Valdez, as they walk through a trim room where three men are pruning dozens of two-foot high plants.
Once in the dispensary's office, behind a locked door, Valdez opens his rucksack and dumps the contents--vacuum-sealed bags containing black plastic jars filled with eighth-ounces of cannabis. Powelson sits at the desk and goes through the manifest while a dispensary employee and Valdez confirm the weight is correct. Valdez picks up a blue-and-brown canvas sack filled with cash and we leave, past the warm orange glowing hybrid rooms and through the back door.
Powelson and Valdez take a quick break between deliveries. "We're all doing the opposite of what we used to do in law enforcement or the military. I have $30,000 in my hand right now and we're running drugs all across town," Valdez says. "We're helping this industry move forward and grow; there's a certain pride in that."
Keeping Things Quiet
At each of the three different dispensaries Powelson and Valdez delivered weed to on Friday, April 17, they follow the same procedure: Both first scan the surrounding area, they park, one watches the other's back while they open the truck's door, and finally they throw the large black military sacks over their shoulders. The duo are both calm and cool now, but they're ready to respond to any trouble that might arise. Valdez says their clients have never been robbed, but many shops without security do get hit. There was one incident recently, he says, where a man left a pot shop after a dispute, went to his car, and came back brandishing a gun. In one incident the partners heard about, a group of robbers drove a car through a dispensary's wall, grabbed as much weed as they could, and bolted.
Fortunately, per usual, all was quiet along Blue Line's route on that Friday, even though they wound up delivering four times the amount they usually do.
Later in the day, three Blue Line security operators manned Euflora, a high-end dispensary in Denver's 16th Street Mall, checking IDs and managing the flow of customers trying to get their weed before the shop closes. On Saturday, in the industrial outskirts of Denver, another group of employees watches over Medicine Man, one of the largest cannabis growers and retailers in the city, whose customers form a line out the door beginning at 8 a.m.
All told, Blue Line has more than 100 clients in Denver, making 4/20 a momentous--and lucrative--holiday for the company. When asked what he thinks about while driving around town with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and marijuana, Powelson doesn't hesitate: "An asset is an asset is an asset," he says. "With cannabis there are more regulations we need to make sure are followed, but securing assets is the same no matter what the product."