Charges have been filed against ten budtenders arrested during the raids at Sweet Leaf locations across the Denver metro area by Denver Police Department officers on December 14. The arrests came after a year-long investigation into Sweet Leaf on suspicions of looping, or selling unlawful amounts of cannabis to customers, according to the Denver District Attorney's Office.
Although thirteen employees were arrested during the December 14 raids, only ten have been charged so far. On Thursday, December 28, Stuart Walker, Krystal Mauro, Leeanne Henley, Natalie Betters and Deann Miller were each charged with felony distribution of marijuana of more than four ounces. Felony marijuana distribution is a Class 4 felony in Colorado and carries penalties of from two to six years in prison and $2,000 to $500,000 in fines.
Christopher Arneson, Cassidy Thomas, Joseph Gerlick, Andrea Cutrer and Devin Waigand were each charged with misdemeanor distribution of more than one ounce of marijuana, a Class 1 misdemeanor with penalties of up to eighteen months in jail and a $10,000 fine. Although Dana Velasquez, Jonathan Sublette and Ian Ferguson had also been arrested on December 14, DA communications manager Ken Lane says he's not aware of any charges filed against them yet, but he anticipates the three will eventually be charged.The DPD would not comment, citing an open investigation.
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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 in the raids; their names did not appear on the list of people charged on December 28. Lane notes, however, that there were nine more arrests warrants pending last week.
Sweet Leaf's 26 cultivation, processing and dispensary licenses have been suspended by the City of Denver. The license for Sweet Leaf's upcoming Thornton location is under review by the City of Thornton, but no decision has been made about it, according to city communications director Todd Barnes. All Denver locations are closed and have been taken off Sweet Leaf's website, with only the stores in Aurora, Federal Heights and Portland, Oregon, still listed. The Aurora and Federal Heights locations are not currently answering the phone, even though both are open; the Portland store seems unaffected.
Sweet Leaf officials have disputed the way that law enforcement is interpreting Colorado law, arguing that the one-ounce limit applies to each purchase, not each day, and claiming that the law puts the onus for obeying rules on the customer, not the budtender.
A crowdfunding campaign organized by current and former employees is raising money for legal fees of those arrested. Started by former Sweet Leaf vice president Nichole West on behalf of Sweet Leaf employee Ashley Goldstein, according to the GoFundMe page, the campaign hopes to reach $15,000; it's currently at a little more than $2,000. There was also a fundraiser held at iPuff Vape on Saturday, December 23, for the near-300 employees who weren't arrested but are now without jobs after the shutdowns.
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Here's the state Marijuana Enforcement Division's official position on cannabis transactions:
The division will seek administrative action against licensees attempting to circumvent the statutory and rule requirement imposing the limitation of one ounce per transaction of retail marijuana. Sales that are structured as multiple, stand-alone transactions may be viewed by the division as an attempt to evade quantity limitations on the sale of retail marijuana, resulting in recommendation for administrative action.
Further, an individual in possession of more than one ounce of retail marijuana or its equivalent is acting unlawfully.
The Sweet Leaf stores at which the alleged illegal sales occurred are located at 15200 East Sixth Avenue in Aurora, 5100 West 38th Avenue, 2609 Walnut Street, 4400 East Evans Avenue, 7200 East Smith Road and 4125 Elati Street, all in Denver.
The ten budtenders who have been charged are currently out on bond and will have court hearings in Denver County Court through February, according to the DA. Cutrer and Gerlick are scheduled to be in court at 8 a.m. on Friday, December 29.