Sweet Leaf Owners Headed to Court January 25 in Looping Case

Sweet Leaf has been embroiled in a legal battle since police officers raided its stores in December 2017.EXPAND
Sweet Leaf has been embroiled in a legal battle since police officers raided its stores in December 2017.
Scott Lentz
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The Sweet Leaf saga is nearing an end, and it may not be a sweet deal for the dispensary chain's owners, who are scheduled to appear in Denver District Court on Friday, January 25. Jail time is a strong possibility for Sweet Leaf owners Anthony Sauro, Christian Johnson and Matthew Aiken, according to sources, but the Denver District Attorney's Office has not yet announced any details of a possible plea deal.

All three men are set to appear at the same advisement hearing; they're facing charges for their alleged roles in a company practice that allowed Sweet Leaf budtenders to sell more than one ounce of marijuana to the same customer per day, a practice known as "looping" that led to a string of raids by the Denver Police Department in December 2017.

At least eighteen budtenders were arrested in connection with the raids, which took place after a year-long investigation into the dispensary chain. All of those budtenders have since seen their charges dropped.

Sweet Leaf ownership and executives are unlikely to be as lucky.

Their argument that the one-ounce limit only applied to each transaction, not purchases per day, until the law was explicitly changed by the MED in 2018 hasn't persuaded the DA to drop the case. It wasn't enough for the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses and state Marijuana Enforcement Division, either; all of Sweet Leaf's dispensary, cultivation and processing licenses throughout Colorado have been revoked.

This summer, the DA confirmed that Sweet Leaf owners and executives were the target of a grand jury investigation. In November, former Sweet Leaf vice president Nichole West and retail operations manager Ashley Goldstein both pleaded guilty to felony marijuana distribution charges; each were sentenced to thirty days in jail.

West declined to be interviewed, but spoke about the Sweet Leaf investigation during a recent cannabis-industry discussion in California, during which she mentioned an email conversation she had with MED officials.

"I spent all of 2018 living in fear. I wasn't sure where things were going to go. According to government officials, we were following the law to the letter, but according to the City of Denver, who decided that they needed to find something wrong, we were not following what they called 'the spirit of the law,'" she said. "I had the option of blaming someone else, taking a plea deal or facing federal investigation. You have to understand that the government is still very much not our friends. They're [legalizing] this to make money."

Despite Sweet Leaf's objections, government agencies haven't budged in this case.

Sweet Leaf's legal representatives declined to comment on a possible plea deal, but on January 25, the year-long fight could finally be at an end.

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