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Chicago Cannabis Firm Accused of Drug Trafficking in RICO Case | High Times

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A cannabis lawsuit has made it all the way to federal proceedings this month, as Verano Holdings, based in Chicago, is being accused of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act by trafficking cannabis. 

The charges are based on the fact that Verano Holdings are being accused of smuggling cannabis from Illinois to Arkansas as part of their business plan. The lawsuit claims that Verano planned to open up a dispensary in Arkansas along with Harvest Health of Arizona and Natural State Wellness Enterprises in Arkansas. A former employee of Harvest Health, Nicholas Nielsen, is claiming that he was told to go to Illinois to get cannabis clippings that would help start the new business.

“In June 2019, [the manager] went to the Verano facility in Illinois, inartfully took clippings from the Verano marijuana, and secreted them in Whole Foods salad,” the lawsuit claims. “[H]e then took the marijuana-laced salads with him on a commercial flight from Chicago to Memphis, Tennessee, where he rented a car and drove the Verano marijuana to [Nielsen] in Arkansas.”

“Defendants faced a problem: They could now grow cannabis, but how would they obtain the cannabis in the new state to grow it?” the official complaint continues. “It’s a chicken or egg problem that every licensed marijuana cultivator faces: they can grow cannabis, but have no means to obtain the new plant materials that does not violate both state and federal law.”

The Initial Arrest and Cascading Charges

The record shows that Nielsen was arrested in January of last year for having jars of concentrate, edibles, grow tents, vaporizers, and flower cannabis in his possession. After his initial arrest, Nielsen was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia, and manufacture of a controlled substance. 

Initially, the charges were just against Nielsen. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division discovered that the cannabis grown in the dispensary facility in question was from Nielsen’s home. After that, Nielsen claimed that he had smuggled plants from Colorado as well to help launch the new business. 

“At times, Nielsen received his instructions directly from various executives of those companies. When police raided the site, however, it was only Nielsen who was criminally charged and left holding the proverbial bag,” Denver attorney Matthew Buck, who is working on the case, said regarding the details of the case in his official argument. 

“Content to merely cash in on their conspiracy, Nielsen’s former employer and co conspirators terminated him, arranged for him to receive several under-the-table payments to keep quiet about what he saw while he was a Harvest employee, and then left him to contend with the criminal justice system alone.”

It is not yet clear how this case will turn out, as Nielsen is not scheduled for trial until the beginning of April. While Nielsen never spoke out about this before he was caught, he is now allegedly ready to testify against Verano Holdings. Verano, on the other hand, are still maintaining their innocence and prepared to fight against these charges.