Weed may be legal in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with it. Some folks in the cannabis industry found that out the hard way this week when a dozen people were arrested following raids at several cannabis dispensaries. The dispensaries at the focus of the raid were under the Sweet Leaf brand, a company with several locations throughout Colorado as well as Oregon.
All ten Sweet Leaf locations were closed last week (the one in Portland, Oregon was not included in these raids and that store remains open).
The raids came after authorities conducted an extensive sting operation that involved a year’s worth of police work. The raids netted thirteen arrests (though some reports say only twelve people were detained). Multiple marijuana licenses were pulled as well.
The locations of the raids, locations where long lines once stood, now feature notices from the city of Denver that read: “Medical and/or retail marijuana license for these premises have been suspended by order of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses for alleged violations of Colorado Law.”
For their part, a Sweet Leaf representative told Westword (a Denver-based newspaper),
“This morning, Sweet Leaf was surprised to receive notification from the Department of Excise and License suspending all of our city licenses in the City and County of Denver. It is unclear at this point exactly what actions if any, Sweet Leaf took to cause the city to issue this order. Sweet Leaf is cooperating with the authorities to resolve this issue and hopes to have all of their stores back in operation as soon as possible.”
All of this means that Sweet Leaf is in a trichome time-out – cultivation, sales, and processing are now on hold. Rumor is these suspensions came about as the Excise and Licenses department was tipped off that arrests and warrants were pending at several of the Sweet Leaf locations.
The History of Sweet Leaf
Sweet Leaf originally opened its doors back in 2009, working solely as a medical marijuana facility in the years before recreational pot came to fruition. In 2014, when recreational weed sales began, the company quickly established itself as one of the big men on the cannabis campus – it has been among the largest dispensary chains in the state. Ten locations existed with another on the way.
The Accusations that Cause the Raid
According to Denver police, the raids occurred because Sweet Leaf employees were up to no good – in eight of the locations, employees sold more than the legal limit to undercover officers on multiple occasions. The eight locations raided included seven in Denver and one in Aurora (a city right next to Denver, for those of you who aren’t down with the Mile High map).
The employees were caught in a process called “looping” – it’s when a buyer goes into a dispensary, purchases the legal amount allowed, leaves and places the purchased weed elsewhere, and then returns to buy more.
During the sting, undercover officers posed as regular customers and engaged in looping at the eight closed locations. Each time they visited (on the same day), they were sold an ounce of weed.
In some instances, the sales were quite audacious – one undercover officer bought weed from the same store seven times in ninety minutes. The employees checked the officer’s ID each time but failed to stop them from making any additional purchases. The seven purchases that day netted 200 grams. Colorado law allows the purchase of 28 grams each day.
The employees arrested are now facing drug charges linked to distributing marijuana. The ones caught selling amounts way over the legal limit are facing felony charges.
In addition to the dispensaries that have been closed, the city also suspended any other sites that operate under the Sweet Leaf name. This includes cultivation facilities, manufacturing operations, and a medical marijuana-product operation.
Complaints from the Neighbors
It’s possible that those who lived near the dispensaries played a role in the sting – they complained numerous times about the infractions that were obvious to watching eyes. One resident was quoted as saying, “They would go in to purchase, they would come back out, they would get in their car, they’d sit there and make phone calls, and then other people would come up and purchase, and then they would go back in.”
Some of the neighbors stated that, while they were fine with the cannabis industry, they weren’t okay with people breaking the law right in front of their residence.
Whatever ignited the sting, many of those in cannabis regulation was involved. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, and the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment all played a part. The Denver District Attorney’s Office, the Denver City Attorney’s Office, and the Aurora Police Department also teamed up with the Denver Police Department in pursuit of the investigation.
Sweet Leaf will be closed for as long as their marijuana licenses are suspended. While other companies have been slapped with fines and fees, this is the first time the city of Denver has ever issued a flat-out suspension in this manner.
The suspension is set to be reviewed during a hearing that the Department of Excise and Licenses is set to schedule within 30 days.