Crime

Is the DA Threatening to Bring in the Feds in the Sweet Leaf Case?

Sweet Leaf was known for ounces priced less than $100.
Sweet Leaf was known for ounces priced less than $100. Scott Lentz
In another strange twist to the Sweet Leaf saga, the lawyer representing one of the dispensary chain's owners has accused the Denver district attorney of sabotaging a grand jury investigation and even threatening to bring in federal authorities.

Attorney Rob Corry was hired by Sweet Leaf co-owner Christian Johnson last month, and hit the ground running on August 31, filing a motion requesting an end to a grand jury investigation into Johnson, his fellow co-owners Anthony Sauro and Mathew Aiken, and the rest of the company. Once one of Colorado's largest dispensary operations, Sweet Leaf saw eight of its stores in Denver and Aurora raided in late 2017 by local law enforcement agencies for alleged illegal marijuana sales.

Since then, the City of Denver has shut down all of Sweet Leaf's locations within Denver, while the state Marijuana Enforcement Division suspended the company's remaining stores in Aurora, Federal Heights and Thornton in August. Sweet Leaf is currently appealing the City of Denver's decision in district court, and is awaiting further discipline from the MED concerning its other stores. Eighteen former Sweet Leaf budtenders were arrested in connection to the investigation (all of their charges were dismissed), but no Sweet Leaf owners or management have yet been charged.

Sweet Leaf has been accused of promoting looping, or selling more than the daily limit of marijuana to the same customer on the same day. Colorado law allows recreational marijuana customers to purchase one ounce of marijuana per day, and medical marijuana patients are allowed to buy two ounces — but until 2018, the law defined the limit as "per transaction" and not "per day." That difference in wording has been a major part of defense arguments, and Corry mentions another in his recent filing to dismiss the grand jury, which Westword obtained.

click to enlarge Sweet Leaf's Aurora, Thornton and Federal Heights locations were served suspension notices on Thursday, July 26. - THOMAS MITCHELL
Sweet Leaf's Aurora, Thornton and Federal Heights locations were served suspension notices on Thursday, July 26.
Thomas Mitchell
In his motion for dismissal, the attorney argues that the grand jurors investigating his client have not been instructed by the court to avoid media coverage about Sweet Leaf, and so have "unfettered access," like every other member of the public. Corry takes specific aim at DA communications director Ken Lane, who has made several statements to the media, including Westword, about the arrests of the eighteen former budtenders in connection to the looping investigation, as well as hints at future indictments of Sweet Leaf ownership and management.

In the motion, Corry, who also represented a handful of the arrested budtenders, says the DA's failure to sequester grand jury members promoted the "tainting of and improper influence on grand jurors, casting the innocent Mr. Johnson in a negative light, exposing him to public scorn and ridicule, and causing him damages."

According to the filing, Corry spoke with Senior Deputy District Attorney Ken Boyd about disbanding the grand jury because of the media attention, but Boyd "indicated that if the state-level grand jury were disbanded prior to issuing an indictment or did not issue an indictment, the Denver district attorney would enter into a partnership with the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado to seek a federal indictment or federal charges against Mr. Johnson and others."

In his filing, Corry accuses the DA of trying to "do the bidding of the Trump administration," and using that threat as a bargaining chip while Corry and the DA continue to discuss a legal resolution for Johnson before an indictment is made.

Since taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump has publicly said he is a proponents of states' rights in respect to legalizing marijuana, but his own administration was recently accused of creating a secret committee to spread one-sided negative information about pot, while his pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has revoked nearly a decade of protective federal guidelines for state-legal marijuana businesses and users.

Corry declined to elaborate on his filing. The DA's office says it has no comment regarding Corry's claims of a tainted jury pool or threats of bringing in federal law enforcement.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell