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Denver Shuts Down 26 Legal Cannabis Businesses, Makes Arrests

December 14, 2017
Closed signs are displayed on the front door to a marijuana dispensary along South Federal Boulevard Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in south Denver. Twenty-six legal marijuana businesses were closed by Denver officials Thursday amid a police investigation expected to lead to criminal charges. (David Zalubowski/AP)
UPDATE, Dec. 15, 2017: Denver Westword’s Thomas Mitchell reports that, as of Friday, authorities had arrested 13 people in connection with the Thursday’s raids on Sweet Leaf dispensaries. Police said they conducted the raids because Sweet Leaf employees were allegedly selling customers more cannabis than allowed under state law, a practice called “looping.” State regulators have also suspended 26 of the company’s cultivation, processing, and retail licenses. A hearing is expected within 30 days. None of the chain’s co-owners were among those arrested, Mitchell reports, noting that “most of the employees taken into custody were budtenders or lower-level employees.” —Eds.


DENVER (AP) — Denver authorities shut down 26 legal marijuana businesses Thursday and arrested 12 people suspected of illegal distribution of cannabis after a yearlong criminal investigation.

Potential charges relate to marijuana sales exceeding limits set in state law, police said. Colorado allows people 21 and older to possess an ounce or less of marijuana under a measure approved by voters in 2012.

The city department that regulates marijuana businesses issued the order to close the businesses based on the police investigation, spokesman Dan Rowland said. It marked the first time the city has issued an open-ended suspension to any legal marijuana business since sales began in 2014, he said.

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Colorado has made a concerted effort to avoid a federal crackdown on its marijuana experiment, including police and government enforcement against illegal marijuana grows or sales.

Denver police didn't name any federal agencies as partners in the investigation.

Gov. John Hickenlooper highlighted those efforts in an August letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who requested information on marijuana legalization. Sessions has been a longtime opponent of state legalization and has suggested the federal government should crack down.

Special Agent Randy Ladd, a spokesman for the Denver division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the agency wasn’t involved. Denver police didn’t name any federal agencies as partners in the investigation.

The city’s order shuttered 26 retail stores and other marijuana growing facilities operating under the name Sweet Leaf. But the police investigation focused on eight locations licensed by the company, and officers searched those addresses Thursday.

Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said he couldn’t provide more detail on the case because of the ongoing investigation. The department didn’t name the people arrested.

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Matthew Aiken, Christian Johnson and Anthony Suaro, three co-owners listed on the city’s order, didn’t immediately respond to email messages seeking comment. Company officials told Marijuana Business Magazine in April that they had 350 employees and $60 million in revenue.

Rowland said the businesses can’t sell or produce any cannabis products while the order is in place. The city plans to hold a public hearing within 30 days.

“This is a way for us to put a hold on things so we can figure out what’s going on,” he said.

Under Colorado law, marijuana businesses must get separate licenses for various purposes, even if they operate out of the same building. For example, a retail store licensed to sell recreational pot also needs a medical marijuana retail license to sell products designated for medical use.

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“One thing I always say about legalization is it didn’t end law enforcement,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver marijuana policy law professor. “If you’re going to have a system that works, people not complying with regulations need to be shut down.”

In Washington state, which also legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, no legal, regulated pot businesses have faced police raids. Some have, however, had their licenses suspended or revoked for failing to follow industry rules.

Sweet Leaf’s website lists one store in Oregon and 10 stores in Colorado. An employee who answered the phone at the Oregon store Thursday said they were open.

Oregon regulators weren’t immediately available to discuss the company’s status in that state.

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  • Pheo Smith

    How about we focus on pills what’s killing are people, Marijuana Lol what a joke what is Marijuana doing to are people making them laugh,relax, eat,get sum sleep,pain,and guess what u actually Wake up in morning and you don’t fight like drunks, Legalize stop wasting time

    • boxerbabee

      *our

      • Pheo Smith

        Seriously ,I love these want to be teachers that test u on your spelling ,like do you have a life,sorry next time I will slow down on my break from job ,you know work ,and make sure everything is A ok for u boring people that look for stupid shit like this,so you live in a perfect world,Mr. Perfect how about put your face on pic,I notice alot of people that talk shit never show what Dum ass looks like

        • whitewaterpoet

          Ok, Here’s my pic. I’m not boxerbabee, but I am someone who cares about language and wants to know exactly what someone means by their use of the language, not try to guess your meaning.
          That said, one or two mistakes in a post that is correct otherwise is usually the fault of “auto-incorrect” and the changes not being caught.

          • Pheo Smith

            R just don’t give a fuk ,

          • Pheo Smith

            2017 fuk wit u say,learn new age

        • Fun Please

          Overreaction

  • Legalize420

    As much as I’m against this. This is a good thing in the long run. With things like Sessions in power as AG which is ridiculous, as well as trump who is a lieing careless sack of crap and more childlike than realistic, we need to be doing EVERYTHING 100% above board.

    Sessions will most likely use an example like this to show and “umm look what happens “doooyyyy duuuuuhhhh”(retarded speaking to talk like sessions IQ allows him to hear things), and we need to be following rules.
    Regardless the industry, there are low, greedy, thoughtless people who will do what’s best for them and them alone saying F U to everyone else. Gives people who want to use lies as truth a reason. You give em a reason, they win.

    Good for Denver for catching this, and nipping it in the bud! We now need to use even more vigilance and care especially as the probable last days of the Cole Memo and the only thing keeping sessions from attacking us, is most likely repealed.

    I’d be happy even if it was changed to allow em to go after rec despite me being 100% for personal choice and legalization. Attacking sick people is WRONG. And we have the right to use OUR JUDGEMENT to heal ourselves not fiddle around with overpriced watered down crap from CVS or Walgreen’s.

    Stay in compliance people, and keep fighting every movement sessions or trump makes!

    • Fun Please

      Couldn’t read, got to the rhe tard quote, and quit.
      Partisan rambling rants don’t get serious consideration amoungst adults. Yet smooth talking Liar in Chief Oblamo had plenty of time to make things right. AG Holder was a racist.
      Give it a break –

  • Brian Bruno

    I want to no what these stores did wrong I no why they got shut down because the drug companies are afraid of something that is better than there fucking drugs and side affects will go down the the shit hole witch will in the future face it drug companies you are not going to win and I what to see what these business did wrong fucking ass hole s

  • lovingc

    Spelling and grammar nazies are not appreciated anywhere.

    • S. Swanson

      Hopefully, irony is.

  • Michael L. Wallace Jr.

    Marijuana was illegally made illegal by lies for profits of products that otherwise would have been made by marijuana & hemp.

    • Legalize420

      This is truth!

  • Melody Fichtner

    60 million in revenue. Wow. I say let the some of the “others” get a slice of the pie. Spread the wealth.

  • Peter kings

    Let them do what ever, but I will still sell medical cannabis because it has more than 34 cures, pills kills. I m in full support of medical bud legalization
    Hit me: peterkings2014@gmail.com

  • Henrik Hansson

    I know people should not advertise but I go to a very trustworthy company called ANNCANNMED to buy my cannabis med. Thanks to them I can treat my disease without taking basically speed. My life, appetite, and overall happiness has improved a lot : )