By Melissa Garcia

DENVER (CBS4) – A year-long undercover sting operation led to the arrest of 13 budtenders who worked at seven ‘Sweet Leaf’ marijuana dispensaries.

More arrests would be forthcoming, police say.

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As a result of the investigation into some stores allegedly selling more than 10 times the legal amount allowed under state law, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses suspended all 26 Sweet Leaf marijuana licenses within the city and county of Denver.

Police say officers executed seven search warrants at Sweet Leaf dispensaries in Denver and at one additional store in Aurora.

sweet leaf raids 5pkg transfer frame 49 Police Arrest 13 Budtenders In Undercover Retail Pot Sting

(credit: CBS)

Arrest records released Friday reveal that an undercover cop was able to buy 12 times the legal limit at the Sweet Leaf dispensary on 38th Avenue and Clay Street, having walked in 12 different times presenting identification over a period of just over two hours split into two sting sessions.

sweet leaf raids 5pkg transfer frame 557 Police Arrest 13 Budtenders In Undercover Retail Pot Sting

(credit: CBS)

Some neighbors in the area were celebrating the business shutdown.

“This is something that has been a problem for a long time,” said Kodie Ketchbaw, a Denver resident who lives across the street from the Sweet Leaf on Clay Street.

Countless customers showed up at the store Friday and were surprised to find the “license suspended” sign posted on its locked door.

sweet leaf raids 5pkg transfer frame 827 Police Arrest 13 Budtenders In Undercover Retail Pot Sting

(credit: CBS)

“It’s a little disappointing, just the fact that they got shut down,” one young woman said.

According to arrest documents, the sting operation found that Sweet Leaf budtenders in at least six Denver stores and one Aurora store were selling far more pot than state regulations allow.

Amendment 64 requires no more than one ounce of marijuana per sale.

Undercover cops wearing hidden video cameras wrote in arrest affidavits that one store sold an ounce to the same undercover buyer 14 times in less than three hours. Another store allegedly sold six times the limit in just over one hour, and still another shop allegedly sold 16 times the limit in about six hours, to name a few.

sweet leaf raids 5pkg transfer frame 767 Police Arrest 13 Budtenders In Undercover Retail Pot Sting

(credit: CBS)

Ketchbaw said the excess sales created problems in her neighborhood.

“We’ve seen the traffic out here and just the shady characters that pull up and park, and then they stay here for hours…and then they make illegal drug deals. And then they go in and buy more,” Ketchbaw told CBS4’s Melissa Garcia.

She said the extra pot on the streets led to illegal drug deals and even threats of violence experienced by her friend.

sweet leaf raids 5pkg transfer frame 134 Police Arrest 13 Budtenders In Undercover Retail Pot Sting

CBS4’s Melissa Garcia interviews Kodie Ketchbaw. (credit: CBS)

“When he came in and said ‘he threatened me with a gun,’ I was like, ‘okay, we’re calling the police,'” Ketchbaw said.

Police said complaints of criminal activity tipped them off to the illegal dispensary sales, which triggered their undercover investigation.

The 13 Sweet Leaf budtenders arrested and booked into jail were facing a combination of felony and misdemeanor charges.

Denver police said officers had yet to arrest nine additional Sweet Leaf employees with outstanding warrants.

It was unknown if or when the Sweet Leaf shops would reopen.

Melissa Garcia has been reporting for CBS4 News since March 2014. Find her bio here, follow her on Twitter @MelissaGarciaTV, or send your story idea to mkgarcia@cbs.com.

Comments (5)
  1. Robert Chase says:

    Under Colorado’s Constitution and statutes, I can purchase an ounce of cannabis at a dispensary, step outside, remove it from its packaging, wave it about, and offer it to anyone at least twenty-one years of age I meet; having given it away or otherwise disposed of it, I may repeat the procedure. Dispensaries and their employees are under no obligation to determine whether patrons are already in possession of the maximum amount of cannabis allowed by law and it is not reasonable to infer solely on the basis of proximity in time that patrons returning to make repeated purchases are in violation of or intend to violate any law, so any arrests or attempts to prosecute people based merely on their having sold several ounces of cannabis to the same person on the same day would be false and wrongful, respectively. The Denver City Attorney sanctions yet more egregious misconduct by Denver police in authorizing these false arrests.

    1. 100% agree. If someone wants to buy a pound of weed that is a lot of work. Tells me that most of these people are from out of state. Manipulating the system. this will change some legalities. All dispensaries are now on notice to this and now this program is shut down.

  2. Why do they keep saying they sold over the legal limit? None of them sold more than an once in a transaction right? I thought you could go into the stores several times per day if you wanted?

    1. Robert Chase says:

      Incompetence. Local TV news more or less regurgitates official press releases verbatim and fails to challenge the lies contained therein — corrupt Denver and State officials take full advantage!

  3. katydid62 says:

    That all being said, people in the cannabis business should be trying to follow not just the letter of the law, but the intent of the law. Right now, given the current administration, there are crosshairs focused on the states that have legalized. This little debacle will garner attention and give ammunition to those that want to reverse the policies that allowed legalization. They are searching for excuses to shut it down, and we don’t need to provide them. We should be above reproach here; we should be more than compliant. If a customer wants more than that ounce, let them go to multiple dispensaries. That puts it all on the customer instead of the business. We need to do this right or we give them and excuse.

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