An owner of a CBD store and gift shop in Doña Ana County pleaded not guilty earlier this week to a fourth-degree felony charge of unauthorized cannabis sales.
Jason Estrada, who is one of the owners of Speak Easy in Las Cruces, filed his not guilty plea with a state magistrate court on Nov. 9, in response to the felony charge filed in September.
Estrada is likely the first person in New Mexico to be charged with illegally selling cannabis under the recently passed Cannabis Regulation Act.
Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, spoke with Estrada in August, just after the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department sent him a cease and desist letter, asking him and his partners to stop giving away cannabis with the purchase of a shirt or sticker.
Estrada told Growing Forward that after he and his partners received the letter from RLD, they transitioned back to selling legal hemp products like CBD.
“We 100 percent stopped and we’re just a CBD store,” Estrada said. “One of the best CBD stores in the state. I will say that as well.”
But according to court records, the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s office alleged that Speak Easy did not stop after the letter from regulators.
According to an affidavit from Doña Ana County Metro Narcotics Agent R. Holguin, undercover agents entered Speak Easy in August and purchased three different cannabis products without purchasing a shirt.
“The items purchased by the undercover agent(s) consisted of: 1) 5 pre rolled cigarettes containing marijuna, 2) a small container of THC wax, and 3) approximately 3.6 grams of marijuana flower,” the affidavit read.
According to the affidavit, officers had the products tested at a state-approved cannabis testing lab and that all three products tested positive for THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis.
In a press release, Estrada’s lawyer, Matthew Madrid, said his client has been in full compliance with RLD’s cease and desist letter since he received it.
“The decision to comply with the Cease and Desist Order was based, in large part, on communications between Speak Easy and the Cannabis Control Division,” Madrid said in the statement. “Make no mistake, this is not the Cannabis Control Division coming after Mr. Estrada, this is a prosecution initiated by our local government and law enforcement.”
Speak Easy gained public attention after the business started advertising on social media the free cannabis with the purchase of another item. Estrada told Growing Forward that his business was simply taking advantage of the clear language of the Cannabis Regulation Act, which allows for the gifting of cannabis. But in its letter, RLD told Estrada and his partners that the price of the stickers being sold were essentially too close to the value of cannabis being given away.
Estrada is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 7, 2022.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Estrada’s attorney