Pot grower hit with ‘severe’ fine for not reporting warehouse fire

Cannabis1 scaled

This nondescript warehouse at 5395 E. 39th Ave. in northeast Denver is home to Super Farm. (Justin Wingerter/BusinessDen)

A cannabis cultivator in northeast Denver was fined $61,500 by the city Tuesday for failing to report a fire at its warehouse and then “disturbing evidence” the fire had occurred.

Excise and Licenses Director Molly Duplechian called the fine a “severe penalty” and said she expects it will ensure Super Farm “complies with the law” going forward.

“The director’s final decision was disappointing,” Super Farm said in a statement, but added that it will nevertheless “respect the director’s decision, pay the fine and move on.”

Around 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 27, 2021, a sodium bulb burst at 5395 E. 39th Ave. and set one of Super Farm’s grow rooms on fire, coating its walls in soot and damaging 120 plants. That fire was not reported to the Denver Fire Department, in violation of the city fire code.

Two days later, a whistleblowing Super Farm employee anonymously called a tip line to report the fire. He said, “I have heard rumors that the grow owner is still going to attempt to process and sell this contaminated cannabis, despite (it) being blackened like charcoal.”

That led to investigations by DFD, the city health department and Excise and Licenses. After looking inside Super Farm’s damaged warehouse, Raymond Burden, DFD’s lead investigator, found it “shocking” that the company had not reported such a fire, he later testified.

Contaminated plants were declared a public health risk and destroyed, costing the company between $100,000 and $200,000. Managers at Super Farm testified that they had hoped to extract THC from those sooty plants but denied planning to sell the cannabis.

Then, when Excise and Licenses investigators walked into Super Farm’s warehouse in early November 2021, they found 18 licensing violations. Many employees didn’t have badges, surveillance videos were blurry and unsaved, signage was inadequate, and a room labeled “Office” was actually being used to roll joints, according to Duplechian.

“The most serious violations in this matter relate to violations of the fire code,” the city’s licensing director wrote Tuesday. “These include failing to notify DFD of the fire that occurred on (Super Farm’s) premises and disturbing the evidence related to the fires.”

Cannabis2 FB

Cannabis plants are seen at Super Farm, 5395 E. 39th Ave. in Denver, in this 2021 photo. (Facebook)

Super Farm, founded in 2013, is known to cannabis regulators. Macon Cowles, a lawyer who moderated a two-day hearing between Super Farm and Excise and Licenses in January, called it “a troubled company,” citing past investigations.

In 2017, four years after Super Farm was founded, one of its co-owners was indicted for selling cannabis outside Colorado. Its warehouse was also raided that same year by Denver police, who falsely believed Super Farm was unlicensed. No charges followed the raid.

Super Farm agreed to oust the indicted co-owner, Jin Tien Wu, and submit to a state audit in October 2017. That audit uncovered missing inventory, financial irregularities and bad bookkeeping. So, Super Farm paid a $200,000 fine and ousted a second co-owner.

It also agreed to sell the entire company to a new buyer by April 2023. But before it could, there was the fire in the fall of 2021 and the subsequent Excise and Licenses case.

Duplechian’s order Tuesday calls for a total of $111,500 in fines, but $50,000 of that is held in abeyance. If Super Farm is sold in the next year, the city will drop that $50,000 fine.

Super Farm was represented by attorney Drew Gottlieb with Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti in Boulder. Denver was represented by Assistant City Attorney Blake McCracken.

POSTED IN Cannabis, Law

Editor's Picks

Comments are closed.