As Sweet Leaf waits for Denver's decision on the 26 cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensary licenses it holds in the city, the company is counting on opening at least one more store, in the suburbs. The dispensary chain's Thornton location could be open within the next couple of months, according to Thornton city officials.
Sweet Leaf's presence in Denver was put on pause December 14, when the Denver Police Department raided several of its dispensaries in Denver and Aurora, eventually arresting fifteen current and former Sweet Leaf employees for alleged illegal cannabis sales. None of the owners of Sweet Leaf listed in the City of Denver's suspension order — Anthony Suaro, Christian Johnson and Matthew Aiken — were arrested, and they've yet to comment publicly on the investigation. While those who were arrested make their way through the court system, Denver will decide the face of Sweet Leaf's licenses in March, according to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. In the meantime, the Denver locations are closed.
While the chain's Aurora and Federal Heights locations closed briefly after the raids, both are again open for business. And a third metro location may soon be up and running in Thornton.
According to City of Thornton spokesman Todd Barnes and city clerk Kristen Rosenbaum, Sweet Leaf's application was unofficially reviewed after Thornton found out about the DPD investigation into the company for "looping," or selling more cannabis to the same customer than the state allows. Thornton City Attorney Luis Corchado found that the ownership group for Sweet Leaf Thornton was a different ownership group than Denver's, Barnes says, so the city allowed the dispensary to move forward. However, documents obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request by Westword show that the stores are run by the same people.
Suaro, Johnson and Aiken are partners in AJS Holdings LLC, an investment firm located at 110 Yuma Street in Denver. Although the licensee holder for the Sweet Leaf Thornton location is listed as AJS Thornton LLC, the dispensary application filed with that city shows that the AJS headquarters are also located at 110 Yuma Street. Suaro, who was named in the City of Denver's suspension order as a co-owner of Sweet Leaf's Denver operations, is listed as the owner of AJS Thornton LLC, while Johnson and Aiken are both listed as having roles within the company.
The Thornton dispensary application asks an applicant to name other dispensaries in which he or she has ownership stakes; the addresses of the shops raided in Denver are listed on the Sweet Leaf applications.
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Asked for clarification on the differences between Sweet Leaf's Denver ownership group and the Thornton group, the City of Thornton issued the following statement:
AJS Thornton, LLC has been approved to operate a marijuana establishment in Thornton upon receipt of a Certificate of Occupancy. AJS Thornton, LLC has not as of yet received a Certificate of Occupancy and as such is not operating within the city of Thornton. On the application Thornton received, it states that AJS Thornton, LLC is 100% owned by Anthony Sauro. The application indicates that Mr. Sauro is part owner of other entities. If you have additional questions about the structure of Mr. Sauro’s other business entities we suggest you contact Mr. Sauro or his attorney.
AJS Holdings and Sweet Leaf have not responded to multiple requests for comment.
A Thornton business receives a Certificate of Occupancy upon passing zoning requirements and showing city officials that its building is up to code, according to Rosenbaum, who adds that Sweet Leaf should be able to open in a few months, after it receives its certification and a sales tax license.