Ken Gorman, an aging missionary of marijuana, was found murdered in his home here two weeks ago. The unsolved crime is exposing the tangled threads at the borderland of the legal and illegal drug worlds he inhabited.
Gorman, who was 60, legally provided marijuana to patients under Colorado's medical marijuana law, but he also openly preached the virtues of illegal use, and even ran for governor in the 1990s on a pro-drug platform.
In recent years, he had grown frightened as the mainstream medicine of cannabis care bumped against the unregulated and violent terrain of the illicit drug market. He had been robbed more than a dozen times in his home on Denver's west side, had recently gotten a gun and also talked of installing a steel door and gates.
"Ken was really fed up with the barrage of robberies and he told me it would never happen again," said Timothy Tipton, a friend and fellow medical marijuana supplier, who said Gorman showed him the gun about two months ago.
Some legal experts say Gorman's death could lead to a reconsideration of how medical marijuana is administered here and elsewhere. Providers are often left exposed and vulnerable because of the nation's conflicting drug laws, with marijuana use illegal under federal law but legalized for some medicinal purposes here and in 10 other states.
Since 1997, after the first medical marijuana law was passed in California, as many as 20 legal marijuana providers have been killed around the country, mostly in robberies, said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington.
Some in law enforcement, including Colorado's attorney general, John W. Suthers, say the Gorman killing illuminates more clearly than ever that crime and marijuana cannot be disentangled.
"Mr. Gorman showed that the law is abused and can be abused," said Nate Strauch, a spokesman for Suthers.
Many people in the medical marijuana supply system say the central risk comes down to the fact that they work in the shadows, where law enforcement officials are often either conflicted or hostile and crime is rampant.