Sweet Leaf, one of Colorado’s largest cannabis businesses, closed multiple locations across the Denver metro area after the Denver Police Department issued both search and arrest warrants on Thursday, December 14, according to the DPD and the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.
None of the dispensary chain’s owners listed in the Denver Department of Excises and Licenses suspension order, including Anthony Suaro, Christian Johnson and Matthew Aiken, were among those arrested. Most of the employees taken into custody were budtenders or lower-level employees, according to family members and social-media accounts of suspects.
The criminal activities alleged include sales of cannabis in violation of Colorado law, which stipulates that adults over the age of 21 can buy and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana at a time, according to Denver police.
The alleged violations occurred during covert visits to Sweet Leaf locations on Dec. 7, 2016; Dec. 14, 2016; Jan. 5, 2017; Feb. 23, 2017; July 26, 2017; Aug. 3, 2017; and Oct. 5, 2017, according to the affidavits.
On each date, an undercover detective entered a single location multiple times — as few as five times and as many as 16 — during windows of time ranging from 59 minutes to 5 hours and 50 minutes, according to the affidavits.
The affidavits say that during each covert visit, a detective equipped with a hidden video camera would enter the store and provide his ID to the employee behind the glass window in the lobby. That employee then would provide the ID to the budtender, who then would escort the undercover detective to the sales floor.
From that budtender the detective then typically purchased “The Special,” identified as 1 ounce of marijuana for $120, with strains including Afghani, Blue Dream, Cheese Quake or Tangerine Kush, according to the affidavits. The detective exited the store and put the marijuana in his vehicle.
Minutes later, the detective would walk back into the store and make another 1 ounce purchase — often from the same budtender, according to the affidavits.
The arrest affidavits for the respective budtenders outline how each of them allegedly made at least two same-day sales to an undercover detective. Those sales allegedly made by the respective budtenders totaled anywhere from nearly 2 ounces to close to 5 ounces.
Denver police initially announced Thursday that 12 individuals were arrested for investigation of illegal distribution of marijuana. One additional arrest was made late Thursday following that announcement, police said Friday. The arrests seem to have stretched throughout the company’s totem pole, with multiple family members of current and former budtenders and cultivation staff reporting to Westword that their daughters, husbands and wives had been arrested at their homes and at work. The DPD is expected to release the names, booking photos and arrest documents of those arrested at some point today.
According to the DPD. “The operation is the result of an extensive, year-long criminal investigation into illegal distribution of marijuana at those locations,” reads the announcement. “The alleged criminal actions are related to the sale of marijuana in excess of allowable amounts established by Amendment 64. Amendment 64 allows for the personal use of marijuana, and specifically allows the possession, use, display, purchase, and transport of one ounce or less of marijuana.”
Sweet Leaf has not responded to requests for further comment since the DPD’s December 14 announcement that contained the looping allegations. Looping occurs when a dispensary customer buys the maximum amount of cannabis allowed — one ounce for recreational customers and two ounces for medical patients — and then leaves the dispensary, returns, and buys more cannabis. Although there is a state tracking system in place for medical patients, there is none for retail purchases.
Sweet Leaf has eleven dispensaries in Colorado, with ten in Denver and one in Aurora, and also one in Portland, Oregon. All eleven dispensaries in Colorado are now closed, but the Portland store was still open as of this posting. Sweet Leaf was scheduled to open a dispensary in Thornton in 2018; the City of Thornton is still reviewing the matter before deciding on the status of Sweet Leaf’s license to operate, according to city communications director Todd Barnes.