Anyone who keeps up with marijuana headlines couldn’t have missed the Sweet Leaf saga that unfolded earlier this month. The Colorado dispensaries were shuttered when authorities found them in glaring violation of “looping” rules.
According to KUSA-TV, 13 employees of Sweet Leaf dispensaries were arrested after undercover police detectives were able to buy as many as 16 ounces of marijuana in a single day from eight of the popular cannabis retailer’s Denver locations.
"The operation is the result of an extensive, year-long criminal investigation into illegal distribution of marijuana at those locations," the Denver Police Department announced in a statement regarding the arrests.
The statement goes on to explain that Amendment 64 of Colorado law “allows for the personal use of marijuana, and specifically allows the possession, use, display, purchase, and transport of one ounce or less of marijuana.” The 13 employees who were arrested are accused of selling marijuana in excess of that limit by a practice known as “looping.”
As Westword explains, looping occurs when a dispensary customer buys the maximum amount of cannabis allowed — in this case, one ounce for recreational customers and two ounces for medical patients — and then leaves the store, only to return soon after to buy more. While Colorado has a state tracking system in place for medical patients, none exists for recreational purchases, which makes the looping practice easier to exploit.
Arrest affidavits indicate that during each undercover buy, a detective carrying a hidden video camera would enter the store and show their ID to an employee behind a glass window in the lobby. The employee would then give the ID to the “budtender,” who would escort the undercover detective to the sales floor. Court documents show that, at some of Sweet Leaf’s locations, the same undercover detectives were able to walk in and buy weed anywhere from seven to 16 times a day. In one case, a budtender sold pot to the same detective nine times in less than two hours — sometimes ringing him up a mere 15 minutes between purchases.
Nine times in less than two hours? Whoa.
Five of the 13 arrested face felony charges, as they sold more than four ounces of marijuana to undercover detectives in one day. The rest face misdemeanor charges. None of the chain’s owners were arrested, though all 26 of their licenses to cultivate, process, and dispense pot were suspended by the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. A hearing to decide any additional action is expected in a few weeks.
Sweet Leaf has 10 of its Colorado dispensaries in Denver and one in nearby Aurora. While all 11 of their Colorado dispensaries are currently closed, their dispensary in Portland, Oregon is still open.
The company had planned to open another location in Thornton, Colorado in 2018, but the city is now reviewing the matter in light of their troubles elsewhere in the state. And so dire is the financial situation facing Sweet Leaf employees, all out of work now, the Colorado marijuana community is holding fundraisers for them.
There are lots of lessons in all this.