Over half of the budtenders arrested in connection with the December 2017 raids on Sweet Leaf have seen their charges dropped by the Denver District Attorney. Four former budtenders walked away from the courthouse with huge sighs of relief on Thursday, June 14, after accepting dismissal offers from the DA.
Felony charges of possession with intent to manufacture and distribute marijuana and possession of marijuana against Natalie Betters, Krystal Mauro, Stuart Walker and Leeanne Henley were all dismissed on the condition that they each perform 200 hours of community service and donate $100 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, according to the DA's office.
Combined with the May dismissals of misdemeanor distribution or possession charges against seven other budtenders, that brings the number of onetime Sweet Leaf employees to have their charges dismissed to eleven, out of approximately eighteen arrests in connection to the case. Deann Miller, another former budtender facing felony charges, has been offered the same deal that her four former co-workers accepted on June 14, but has not yet decided to take it.
Formerly one of the biggest dispensary chains in Colorado, Sweet Leaf saw eight of its stores raided by the Denver Police Department and various enforcement agencies in December 2017 after a yearlong investigation into alleged looping, or selling unlawful amounts of marijuana to customers. 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 at a time (two ounces for medical patients). Sweet Leaf's legal representatives have argued that the limit applied per transaction and not per day, but a statement by the state Marijuana Enforcement Division in May 2017 informed marijuana licensees that selling more than one ounce to a customer on the same day was illegal, and that was reiterated to Sweet Leaf in an MED email in August 2017, according to Denver City Attorney Susan Cho.
Customers arrested by the DPD subsequently reported purchasing numerous pounds of marijuana in a day, and body-cam footage in the case shows undercover officers purchasing several ounces of marijuana within an hour from the same Sweet Leaf budtenders.
Earlier reports from the DA listed seventeen Sweet Leaf employees as having been arrested, but another former employee, Michael Pesavento, was arrested in May on an outstanding warrant for the same charges filed against Betters, Mauro, Walker and Henley. All of the budtenders facing felony charges, including Pasavento, are represented by attorneys Rob Corry and Abbey Moffitt, who initially represented just four of them but have since taken on the whole group. Pasevento and Kristen Delany, another budtender facing the same charges, still have ongoing cases.
"From the perspectives of human dignity and wise use of taxpayer resources, these cases should not have been brought, at all. It is sad, indeed, that these good working people all had to spend multiple nights in jail, have their good names smeared all over the press, and deal with all sorts of negative personal consequences," Corry writes in an email to Westword. "But, even the Grinch eventually came around, after trying to steal Christmas. So, now we can finally commend the Denver District Attorney for this belated step."
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Deputy District Attorney Tim Twining says the dismissal of charges was a "generous offer" from city, and notes that since this wasn't a plea-bargain deal, none of the budtenders entered a guilty plea. DA communications director Ken Lane calls the deals "dismissals due to agreement," adding that charges could be refiled against the budtenders if they don't complete their community service.
"The cases were filed because these budtenders did in fact sell marijuana to an undercover officer in excess of the legal limits — they broke the law. These sales were numerous and within a very short period time," Lane says in an email.
A hearing officer has recommended that the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses revoke all 26 of Sweet Leaf dispensary, cultivation and infused-product licenses within the city. Excises and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy is expected to make a decision by July. The company's dispensaries in Aurora, Federal Heights and Portland, Oregon, are still open, with another opening in Thornton in April.
Sweet Leaf and its attorney did not respond to a request for comment. No Sweet Leaf owners or members of management have been arrested in connection with the case.