Speak Easy’s business license revoked by Las Cruces City Council

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LAS CRUCES — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to go along with the Las Cruces Community Development Department’s decision to revoke the business license of Speak Easy, a store located at El Paseo Road and East Idaho Avenue that sells CBD products and cannabis-themed merchandise.

In September, after one of the most important people involved in the business was charged with a cannabis-related crime, the department chose to revoke the license.

Jason Estrada is the CEO and “face” of Speak Easy, his attorney says, but has been identified by the city and state cannabis regulatory agency as its owner. Estrada is also listed as a company organizer.

In September, Estrada was charged with a felony after allegedly selling cannabis directly to undercover law enforcement outside the store on two separate occasions. The case was dismissed in January without prejudice, but is pending a possible grand jury indictment.

Estrada, who is also a mayoral candidate, appealed the Community Development Department’s decision, sending the final decision to the Las Cruces City Council. Had Estrada not appealed, Speak Easy’s license would have been revoked on October 30, 2021. The store remained open while the decision was under appeal.

Speak Easy NM, a cannabis-themed shop in Las Cruces, temporarily closed on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, following a cease and desist letter sent by the New Mexico Cannabis Control Division.

On January 18, the city council filed the decision regarding Speak Easy’s license because Estrada was ill and unable to attend the meeting and was unable to meet with his lawyer.

Speak Easy also ran into legal trouble before Estrada’s charges. The store received a cease and desist order from the New Mexico Cannabis Control Division last July for offering small amounts of cannabis to customers who made other purchases at the store, which which, according to the CCD, amounted to illegal sales of cannabis. The shop temporarily closed in response.

Following:Las Cruces City Council postpones decision on Speak Easy commercial license

Although it became legal for adults to possess and use cannabis in New Mexico on June 29, 2021, commercial sales have not begun. By law, the state has until April 1 to begin commercial sales. It has already started licensing retail and other businesses, and the final rules for retailers came into effect in December.

The board resolution said the license was subject to revocation because the law enforcement investigation “concluded that Speak Easy personnel, including … Estrada, owned, distributed, sold, bartered, or gave away cannabis products” in violation of state and city code law.

While discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting included both the donation incident and the alleged illegal sales, Community Development Manager Larry Nichols told the Snon-news the impetus for the revocation of the license was the criminal charges. One of the alleged sales took place after the store reopened following CCD’s order.

Matt Madrid, attorney for Speak Easy, pleads for city councilors to rescind the decision to revoke the business license at Las Cruces City Hall on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.

Yet Matt Madrid, Estrada’s and company’s attorney, said the gifting is a practice that has happened in other states, but also said no illegal marijuana trade has happened. took place after the judgment and abstention.

“So what we have is a businessman who sees an opportunity based only on things that have happened in other states, tries to shoot it and gets shot down,” Madrid said. “But he remains dejected. He didn’t keep doing what they told him not to do.”

Madrid also alleged that the products sold to undercover law enforcement in August 2021, following the cease and desist order, were legal CBD products and not illegal cannabis products containing illegal THC. . He presented advisers with an analysis from a distributor that he said refuted the criminal allegations.

Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Ryan Holguin, a former Las Cruces/Doña Ana County Metro Narcotics agent who worked on the Speak Easy undercover investigation, testifies at a Las Cruces City Council meeting on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.

Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Ryan Holguin, a former Las Cruces/Doña Ana County Metro Narcotics agent who worked on the undercover investigation, said the products purchased and tested were products of illegal cannabis.

“I imagine the narcotics officers understand the difference between cannabis and CBD,” District 4 Councilwoman Johana Bencomo said.

Estrada didn’t testify or comment to the media on Tuesday, as Madrid said the criminal case could still move forward.

“The presumption of innocence is something we are all entitled to,” Madrid said. “(If) a restaurant owner gets a DUI, we don’t revoke their business license until we know what happened.”

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After counsel questioned those who testified on February 8, the seven counselors denied Estrada’s appeal.

Nichols told the board that the department has not revoked a business license in the past four years.

Although District 5 Councilwoman Becky Corran voted to deny Speak Easy’s appeal, she maintained that the city had not revoked the licenses of companies caught stealing wages, for example. , and worried about the kinds of potential crimes the city was penalizing.

With the revocation, it is unclear whether the company will appeal to the district court to try to keep the license. The business should not continue to operate now that it is unlicensed, Las Cruces communications director Mandy Guss said in an email.

Nichols told the board there was no waiting period for Estrada to apply for a new license for Speak Easy. It’s something that puzzled Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who suggested the city should have a penalty in a situation of this nature.

Estrada owns marketing company Everything Las Cruces and is running for mayor of Las Cruces next year. He accused the city of targeting him because of his candidacy.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

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