Two months after the largest federal raids ever on the Colorado medical-marijuana industry, many of the operators involved are back in business on a smaller scale and one has been denied his attempt to enter the state’s recreational marijuana industry.
Several stores raided by armed federal agents have re-opened. Some cultivation warehouses that were swept clean are again filled with marijuana plants. Nobody named in the search warrants has been arrested or even publicly accused of wrongdoing. At least three of those targets say they are baffled why the feds showed up at their doors.
Federal law enforcement officials, meanwhile, have remained publicly mum. The investigation is ongoing, they say.
State regulators, however, have taken some action against businesses owned by one of the raid targets, Laszlo Bagi.
The state Marijuana Enforcement Division confirmed on Wednesday it has sent notices of denial to Bagi-controlled businesses that had sought licenses to grow and sell marijuana recreationally.
The division also said it had completed an investigation into his medical marijuana operations and issued orders that may lead to “sanction or actions” against those licenses.
Bagi, one of 10 people named as raid targets in a search warrant obtained by The Denver Post, has maintained his innocence.
“If I did something wrong,” he said, “I think I’d be in jail.”
The Nov. 21 raids struck at least 15 medical-marijuana shops, cultivation warehouses and homes of people connected to the businesses.
Because federal officials have been so circumspect in discussing the raids, it is difficult to gauge their full extent. But Bagi’s attorney has previously estimated his client lost $1 million worth of plants. The manager at another raided dispensary estimated that agents seized $50,000 worth of inventory at his shop.
Many of those named as targets are tied to the VIP Cannabis dispensary in Denver. The store’s owners or their business associates either own or have owned stakes in at least a half-dozen dispensaries, numerous grow locations and a marijuana-infused products company in Denver, according to city licensing records examined by The Post.
Despite the raid — which resulted not only in lost inventory but also smashed windows — VIP’s flagship location at South Federal Boulevard and Alameda Avenue re-opened Dec. 11. Sean McAllister, the lawyer for VIP co-owner Gerardo Uribe, said the store had an inventory made up of a limited amount of marijuana that it was allowed under state law to purchase from other dispensaries.
Another store tied to VIP — Grateful Meds in Nederland — re-opened five days after the raids. Other VIP-affiliated dispensary locations, including one in northwest Denver and another off East Colfax Avenue, remained shuttered this week.
Grateful Meds’ manager, Joseph Taveras, said in an interview he still has no idea why federal investigators targeted the businesses and individuals associated with VIP.
“Never in the time I have been with these people have I seen something that made me suspicious,” Taveras said. “I think it is unfair, what they did to these people. I think they are the victim here.”
Bagi, who said he owns a half-dozen different dispensaries around the state, said all but a couple of his stores are open. He has also begun growing again at the warehouse north of Boulder that federal agents stripped of plants. Bagi said the only other thing investigators took during the raids were computers.
He said agents didn’t tell him why his operations were targeted and said a Drug Enforcement Administration agent didn’t seem to mind if Bagi started up his business again.
“He said, ‘I don’t care if you start growing tomorrow,'” Bagi said.
It will take until summer for his grow to be producing as normal, though, Bagi said. In the meantime, he said he’s laid off 40 people.
“The whole thing is insane,” he said.
Federal officials said at the time that the raids were consistent with a new Department of Justice policy to target state-legal marijuana businesses only when they do things like sell pot on the black market or link up with criminal organizations. The next day, sources told The Post that investigators were looking into possible connections to a Colombian drug cartel.
One person was arrested in connection with the raids — a 49-year-old Colombian national named Hector Diaz. He was charged, however, with a weapons offense in an indictment that doesn’t mention marijuana. His trial is scheduled for May.
About two and a half weeks after the raid, the state Marijuana Enforcement Division and the City of Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses announced they had launched a joint investigation into the targeted businesses to determine whether any enforcement action was warranted. State officials say they continue to investigate businesses and individuals associated with VIP Cannabis.
The raids also caused a change in how Grateful Meds’ ownership is registered with the town of Nederland.
Town records from last fall identified the dispensary owners as Uribe and David Furtado, a Denver attorney who was also named as a target of the raids. Furtado has denied wrongdoing.
After the raids, Nederland Town Clerk Michele Martin said she met with Furtado, and it was agreed Uribe’s name would be removed from ownership. She said Furtado described himself as being named in the raid document only because of his association with Uribe.
“I wasn’t thrilled to hear there was a raid going on in our town,” Martin said. “”We’d just like to have good, solid operators up here.”
Furtado said Wednesday he would like to sell the dispensary and get out of the marijuana business altogether.
“I trust the federal government to do a thorough investigation and I trust them to make a right decision in this matter,” he said.
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