LAS CRUCES — The city council will decide on Tuesday whether to uphold the city’s Community Development Department’s decision to revoke the business license of a retailer that got into trouble for giving away cannabis to customers last summer.

Speak Easy, a business located at El Paseo Road and East Idaho Avenue that sells CBD products and cannabis-themed merchandise, was issued a cease-and-desist order last July from the New Mexico Cannabis Control Division for not allowing customers to use it made, given small amounts of cannabis as gifts, had other in-store purchases.

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

CCD accused the store of circumventing state law by giving away larger gifts of cannabis products with more expensive purchases of non-cannabis products.

“Speak Easy’s practice of ‘gifting’ cannabis to customers who purchase certain items from their store is illegal,” CCD said in a press release announcing the cessation. “Exchanging money in the transaction makes it a sale, not a gift, and is therefore illegal.”

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After the temporary closure, the shop reopened and announced it would comply with the CCD’s order, saying through a solicitor that gifts “will not take place on our premises”.

But that promise was reportedly broken.

According to an affidavit, undercover agents from the Las Cruces/Doña Ana County Metro Narcotics Unit purchased Jason Estrada’s cannabis products from Speak Easy on two occasions — in July before the cease and desist order and in August after it reopened. The agents said they bought the products directly from Estrada without having to buy another item.

Local business owner Jason Estrada announced on September 15, 2021 that he will run for mayor of Las Cruces in 2023.

Estrada, who said he is only tasked with marketing for Speak Easy but has been identified as the owner by CCD and the city, was charged with a cannabis-related crime on Sept. 24. Estrada is also listed as the organizer of the store.

Estrada first appeared in court on November 12 and later told Sun News he was not guilty. Court records show the case was dismissed on January 7 with no prejudice.

On September 30, 2021, the City of Estrada announced that Speak Easy’s license would be revoked on October 30 because the business violated city ordinance.

“Speak Easy’s business license was revoked because an investigation conducted by Las Cruces/Doña Ana Metro Narcotics … concluded that Speak Easy employees, including owner Jason Estrada, possessed, distributed, sold, traded or gave away cannabis products “Violation of state law and city ordinances,” says the resolution before the city council on Tuesday.

Estrada appealed the decision through his attorney on October 27 and sent the decision to the Las Cruces City Council. Speak Easy has remained open while the case goes on appeal.

Estrada owns the marketing company Everything Las Cruces and is running for mayor of Las Cruces in 2023. He has accused the city of targeting him for running for office.

“This is a political witch hunt because I’m running for mayor and they can see I’m going to win and take office. And turn this city around!” Estrada said in a text message that he would refer any further questions about the revocation to his attorney.

Speak Easy NM, a Las Cruces cannabis store, was temporarily closed Tuesday, July 27, 2021 following a cease and desist letter from New Mexico's Cannabis Control Division.

In deciding the fate of Speak Easy’s license, councilors must decide whether community development “acted fraudulently, haphazardly or capriciously” and whether the department’s decision “is supported by substantial evidence,” according to the council decision.

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Other Speak Easy representatives could not be reached.

Community Development Director Larry Nichols declined to answer questions about this story. Matt Madrid, Estrada’s attorney, did not answer a call.

The city council, which normally meets on Mondays, will instead meet on Tuesday, January 18 at 1 p.m. for a regular session due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The meeting will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, will be streamed on YouTube at Youtube.com/user/CLCTV20 and will be broadcast on Comcast cable channel 20.

City councilors will also vote on Tuesday to postpone development of an administrative program for the city’s feral and alien cat repatriation policy and to approve the city’s annual comprehensive financial audit report.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for Sun News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com, or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.