The Sweet Leaf Conviction: Is It Fair?

The owners of Sweet Leaf were recently sentenced to a year in prison

Nobody should go to prison for cannabis “crimes.” The battle to legalize means an end to prosecution, an end to jail sentences and an end to the undeniable, disproportionate arrests of minorities.

That being said, you have to wonder about the fairness of the recent conviction last month of the three owners of the Sweet Leaf dispensaries in Denver. They received a year of prison and a year for of probation in a plea deal for violating the state’s Organized Crime Control Act and not filing tax returns. They were also fined $125,000 each.

What did they do? It’s called “looping,” wherein a dispensary violates state law by allowing customers to make multiple purchases during the course of a day. The convictions resulted in all of the Sweet Leaf dispensaries being forced to close down, resulting in job loss for its many employees.

The scale of the looping was, by no means, trivial. Eighteen budtenders were arrested in connection with the investigation. (Their charges were later dropped though.) The Colorado-based newspaper Westword reported: “According to MED figures cited by city attorney Emela Jankovic during the hearing, there were over 1,000 instances of medical marijuana looping totaling nearly $4 million at one Sweet Leaf dispensary during a stretch from 2016 to 2017, and one company district manager believed loopers accounted for 30 to 50 percent of overall sales for the company.”

Prosecutors say the Sweet Leaf owners were well aware of the illegal looping practices—even encouraging them—and estimate that nearly 2.5 tons of cannabis entered the black market.

Two and a half tons? As we all know, cannabis is prohibited on the federal level and punishment can be severe. Here are the sentencing guidelines for selling two and a half tons: 1,000 or more plants or kilograms qualifies as a felony, which can involve a jail term between 10 years to life and a $1,000,000 fine.


Currently, there are only ten states that allow adult, recreational use which, of course, means there are forty that do not. If one trafficked in that much cannabis in one of these states, the federal government would definitely be invoking harsh measures.

It’s also significant to note that, by engaging in these illegal actions, Sweet Leaf owners were destabilizing Colorado’s legal cannabis industry, weakening its relationship with lawmakers and causing dispensaries that observe their state’s cannabis laws to lose revenue.

Was the sentence unjust? All incarcerations for cannabis offenses are unjust. But two and a half tons in a state where cannabis is illegal would have drawn the heavy hand of the federal government, which would have imposed its sentencing guidelines for major trafficking. All things being equal, Sweet Leaf owners got a pretty sweet deal.

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