Three Sweet Leaf budtenders arrested for alleged illegal cannabis sales had their first date in Denver County Court on Friday, December 29, and one of the defendants' attorneys left feeling optimistic.
After Andrea Cutrer, Joseph Gerlick and Ian Ferguson all appeared in court this morning, each received a continuance for a hearing at a later date, when they will potentially decide to go to trial, plead guilty or take a plea deal. Cutrer's original charge was felony distribution of marijuana, but that has been dropped to a misdemeanor. An attorney representing Cutrer for Alfrey Law says he believes the lesser charge is a good sign for the defense; her next court date will be in February.
Cutrer is now charged with misdemeanor distribution of more than one ounce of marijuana, a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to eighteen months in jail and a $10,000 fine. Gerlick and Ferguson are charged with the same misdemeanor.
Thirteen current and former Sweet Leaf employees were arrested during raids at company locations across the Denver metro area by Denver Police Department officers on December 14. The arrests came after a yearlong investigation into Sweet Leaf on suspicions of looping, or selling unlawful amounts of cannabis to customers, according to the DA.
Sweet Leaf officials have disputed the way that law enforcement is interpreting a Colorado law that applies a one-ounce limit to recreational cannabis possession and transactions. The company argues that the limit applies to each purchase, not each day, and that the law puts the onus for obeying rules on the customer, not the budtender. Sweet Leaf also contends that the law isn't set to take effect until January 1, 2018, while all of the allegedly illegal sales took place in 2016 and 2017.
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The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, the state agency that makes rules for and regulates the pot industry, stated its official position on cannabis transactions in 2017:
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.
Sweet Leaf's 26 cultivation, processing and dispensary licenses issued for Denver have been suspended by the city. The license for Sweet Leaf's upcoming Thornton location is under review, according to Thornton communications director Todd Barnes. All Denver locations are closed and have been taken off Sweet Leaf's website. Stores in Aurora, Federal Heights and Portland, Oregon, however, are still listed as open. During a visit to the Aurora location on Thursday, December 28, we spotted customers in the double digits waiting to visit with a budtender.
The dispensary chain's listed co-owners, Anthony Suaro, Christian Johnson and Matthew Aiken, were not among those arrested, and their names did not appear on the list of people charged in connection with the raids that the Denver District Attorney's Office released on December 28. The rest of the employees currently facing charges will have their first court dates throughout January and February.