Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Las Cruces’ mayoral candidate, charged with a cannabis-related crime, accuses the city of targeting him

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

LAS CRUCES – A man running for mayor of Las Cruces was charged with a crime after police said he sold cannabis products to undercover agents in August.

Jason Estrada, 37, was charged with conspiracy to violate cannabis trafficking regulations, a fourth degree crime. On Friday he stood before a judge for the first time.

Estrada announced his candidacy for mayor on September 15, just before charges were brought on September 24. He owns Everything Las Cruces, a company that markets local businesses and promotes the city, and manages Speak Easy, a local shop that sells CBD products and cannabis-themed items.

Agents from the Doña Ana County Metro Narcotics unit went undercover on Speak Easy in August, according to an affidavit. The undercover agents said they bought cannabis products in the form of marijuana cigarettes, wax and a bag of cannabis flowers.

The agents said they bought the cannabis directly from Estrada. Currently, shop windows are not allowed to sell cannabis. While cannabis use has been legalized by the legislature and the governor of New Mexico, its sale is not yet legal. The state has until April 2022 to set the parameters of a cannabis sales market.

Estrada told Sun News that he didn’t do anything wrong. He has not yet had the opportunity to make a formal statement to the Doña Ana District Court. If convicted, he faces up to 18 months in prison.

Failure and Failure

Friday’s hearing wasn’t the first time Estrada had had legal problems with cannabis.

During the summer, Estrada first caught the attention of media organizations, then the attention of the state government.

The store, called Speak Easy, officially opened on July 17th, according to its Facebook page.

Estrada advertised on Facebook that customers could walk in, buy a t-shirt and get cannabis for free.

“We knew there was going to be a little pushback for things that people don’t understand and for things that are brand new,” said Estrada.

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However, the regulators saw this as a problem. Ten days after Speak Easy opened, the New Mexico Cannabis Control Division ordered Estrada to cease operations.

“The Cannabis Control Division does not tolerate any individual or company who violates the Cannabis Regulation Act or otherwise compromises the integrity of the adult cannabis industry in New Mexico,” said John Blair, assistant superintendent of the Regulatory and Licensing Division, in a July press release.

“All New Mexicans should ensure that violations of the Cannabis Regulation Act are countered with swift, forceful action by the state.”

Matt Madrid, Estrada’s attorney, said in a press release that Speak Easy would comply with the order.

“The practice commonly referred to as ‘giving’ will not be on our premises, but we can still help the community with CBD products and merchandise,” Madrid wrote in a press release.

But DASO agents said this did not happen.

According to an affidavit, the two undercover agents bought Estrada cannabis products in August. The agents said they bought the cannabis products directly from Estrada and did not need to buy a t-shirt.

Estrada: “I’ll fight it”

After first appearing in court on Friday, Estrada defiantly opposed the charges and confessed his innocence.

“I didn’t do that and I will fight for it,” Estrada told Sun News. “My family and business colleagues and my lawyers and everyone behind me said we are here to fight this with you.”

Madrid, Estrada’s lawyer, issued a press release shortly after the hearing declaring his client’s innocence and suggesting that the city of Las Cruces was targeting his client.

“Make no mistake, this is not the cannabis control department that comes after Mr Estrada, this is law enforcement launched by our local city government and law enforcement agencies,” Madrid said in a press release.

He added that the city of Estrada’s business license to operate Speak Easy would be revoked before the criminal complaint was filed.

“It is interesting that the alleged activity in the criminal complaint became widespread in July, but the administrative and criminal measures taken by the city of Las Cruces did not begin until Mr Estrada announced his candidacy,” said Madrid.

The Las Cruces City Community Development Office, which oversees commercial licenses, was unavailable for comment on Friday.

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Estrada said the charges were a shock, then a worry when he first found out about it.

“It’s a shock, it’s a worry, it’s a fear of the unknown what’s going to happen,” said Estrada. “But then there was also a sense of anger about why this could happen and what will happen.”

Estrada said he believed the charges were not in good faith. He did not attribute the attacks to any particular person in the city administration, but said that it reinforces his view that Las Cruces needs new leadership.

“That’s why I announced early on that I was running for mayor’s office. And then these things happened right afterwards,” he said.

Estrada was not arrested during the trial and was released on Friday morning at his own discretion. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in January.

“We’ll keep fighting and pushing all of that,” he said.

Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ Just516garc.

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This article originally appeared in Las Cruces Sun-News: Mayoral candidate charged with cannabis crime accuses the city of targeting him

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