Charges against seven of the fifteen budtenders arrested for alleged illegal marijuana sales at Sweet Leaf dispensaries have been dismissed, according to the Denver District Attorney's Office and Denver County Court documents.
Christopher Arneson, Andrea Cutrer, Cassidy Thomas, Joseph Gerlick, Ian Matthew Ferguson, Timothy Macrorie and Devin Wagiand, all of whom were facing misdemeanor charges of marijuana distribution or possession, each saw their charges dismissed recently. Arneson, who now works for Westword, must complete 150 hours of community service, but charges against the other six were dropped completely. The only other former Sweet Leaf employees facing misdemeanor charges, Abel Alvarado and Jacob Knaust, still have open cases, with Alvarado yet to set a plea and Knaust set to go to trial in August.
Six more former budtenders still face felony charges.
It's been tumultuous times for Sweet Leaf and its present and former employees since December, when eight of its stores were raided by the Denver Police Department and various enforcement agencies after a yearlong investigation into one of Colorado's largest dispensary chains. The probe focused on alleged looping, or selling unlawful amounts of marijuana to customers.
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Under the language of Amendment 64 at the time of the sales in 2016 and 2017, a customer was only allowed to buy one ounce of marijuana per transaction (two ounces for medical patients). But a statement by the state Marijuana Enforcement Division in May 2017 informed marijuana licensees that selling more than one ounce to the same customer per day was illegal, and that was reiterated to Sweet Leaf in an MED email in August 2017, according to Denver City Attorney Susan Cho.
The six former Sweet Leaf budtenders arrested in connection with the raids who still face felony charges were initially charged with illegal marijuana distribution. Those charges were dropped within a few months of the arrests, but then the budtenders were quickly recharged with felony possession with intent to manufacture and distribute marijuana and possession of marijuana. "Even though some of the budtender cases have been dismissed, this is very much a wide-open and ongoing criminal investigation concerning Sweet Leaf, and we are not going to comment on actions being taken with respect to any of the cases at this time," says DA communications director Ken Lane.
The two budtenders still facing misdemeanor charges declined to comment or could not be reached. Jennifer Gersch, the attorney representing Gerlick, won't comment on the specifics of his case, but says she believes that many of the arrested employees were guilty of nothing more than ignorantly doing what they were told.
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"A lot of what is not necessarily clear in [Amendment 64] is a bit clarified in the MED rules and regulations, but when these cases were going on, there was a lot of confusion," she explains. "I think what's happening here is these people working in the marijuana fields were kind of unclear, either thanks to their bosses or supervisors. Maybe they didn't tell [their employees], or they didn't really know."
The company itself has remained silent about the status of its former employees, and didn't respond to requests for comment on their cases. No Sweet Leaf owners or management have been arrested in connection with the investigation, according to the DA. "The DA at the time, they're looking into the law, and they're looking into the frontrunners of this," Gersch adds. "The budtenders were the first to have real interactions with the customers, and they have the most interactions. They're the easiest people, I think, to prove a case on if the DA wants to prove something."
All 26 of Sweet Leaf's dispensary, cultivation and infused-product licenses in the City of Denver are currently suspended by the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. A disciplinary hearing to help decide the company's fate in the city concluded in April, with city hearing officer Suzanne Fasing recommending that Excises and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy permanently revoke every license. Kilroy is expected to make a decision before July.
Sweet Leaf's dispensaries in Aurora, Federal Heights and Portland, Oregon, are still open, with another opening in Thornton in April.