Medical marijuana is now a reality in Nevada. But while it provides relief for patients, they're exposed to a serious threat.
Contact 13 Investigates follows the tricky trail of cannabis cash.
Like many other states, Nevada is planting the seeds to legitimize this budding industry. As marijuana dispensaries pop up like weeds -- we found robberies soon follow.
In San Diego, a shoot-out left a security guard injured and a suspect dead. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle all report break-ins and hold-ups. Phoenix and Denver have seen cannabis related crime too. So is it just a matter of time before criminals in our state try to cash in on our new cash crop?
Whether they're buying Cookie Cross, 9lb Hammer, Train Wreck or Snow Dog, they're walking in with cash and walking out with weed. In this way, buying pot legally is no different from doing a drug deal on the street -- and it puts customers and employees in criminals' crosshairs.
"It's unconscionable to me," says Greta Carter, a partner at Inyo Fine Cannabis Dispensary in Las Vegas, one of the first to operate in Nevada.
More than 10,000 Nevada residents carry medical marijuana cards.
Marijuana isn't the only green in the medical marijuana industry. Cash is king because it has to be, compromising safety and security and essentially making legitimate businesses operate kind of like criminal enterprises.
Marijuana is still a controlled substance under federal law. Banks are federally insured so they're not willing to take money made from marijuana sales. For dispensaries and patients, carrying even a little cash comes with a big risk.
"People are killed or violence done to them for $500 or less," says Greta. "Yet we have marijuana businesses that will be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And we don't have the protection or the convenience of banking."
She said you don't keep your money in one location.
For security reasons, Greta can't go into detail. But she says they avoid routines someone can take advantage of. Some dispensaries have armed guards.
At Inyo, security is more secretive -- with surveillance cameras, window bars and separated entrance and exit doors with man traps. Dispensaries also use private vault companies to store cash instead of keeping it on site.
Inyo managing partner David Goldwater says the backhand they get from banks is just plain bogus because banks do take marijuana tax money.
"Ironically, the same patient that comes in here and pays for medical marijuana, the bank will not accept the deposit from me," says David. "But when I take my money to go down and pay my taxes at the county, that same dollar gets deposited right in to a national bank."
Pot businesses are also forced to pay employees and suppliers with greenbacks.
"This business is really a legal minefield," says Amanda Connor, one of a few lawyers working in medical marijuana law.
"Because this is so heavily regulated, every penny has to be tracked, and you have to know exactly where it is."
Besides the logistical and legal problems of operating a cash business. There's another challenge; passing the smell test.
"Sometimes the money smells like marijuana," Greta says. "And people are opposed to taking that money too, so Febreeze becomes your best friend."
But it's the foul stench of hypocrisy that bothers entrepreneurs like Greta and David. They say it's time for regulators to catch up with the new reality of cannabis-generated cash.
We're told Nevada is blazing the trail for a marijuana banking system. State lawmakers recently passed bills that would allow for privately insured thrift banks and are looking at other ways to safely bank cannabis cash.