Denver shuts down 26 legal pot businesses

DENVER — Denver authorities shut down 26 legal marijuana businesses Thursday and arrested 12 people suspected of illegal distribution of pot 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 pot 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.

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