Police in Rutherford County, Tenn. padlocked 23 stores accused of selling non-THC cannabidiol (CBD) gummies in a county-wide raid called Operation: Candy Crush on Monday. The multi-agency raid included detectives from Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department, Murfreesboro Police, Smyrna Police, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
WREG-TV notes that 21 individuals have received indictments for selling the products.
However, given that the sale of hemp products and the possession of non-THC CBD products had been legalized in the state in recent years, questions have been raised as to the legality of the raid.
These CBD products do not contain significant quantities of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces intoxication, and are mainly popular for medicinal uses, such as symptom management in seizure disorders.
A 2014 Tennessee law redefined hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3 percent THC as an industrial product rather than a controlled substance. A 2016 law created a pilot program for cultivating hemp and a licensing system for distributors.
“Any person who makes only retail sales of industrial hemp obtained from a licensed processor or distributor will not be required to obtain a license,” notes HB 2032.
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While those laws created a legal marketplace for hemp-derived CBD, another 2015 law, SB 0280, redefined the state definition of the controlled substance marijuana to exclude marijuana-derived CBD products with less than 0.9 percent THC, which stops short of creating a legal marketplace for those distinctly different but similar products, but prevents marijuana-derived possessors from being busted under pot laws.
While the TBI has not yet announced which products were seized in the raid and it is possible that some of the products seized were not made from hemp, the products depicted in a Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department Facebook post as examples of those items seized appear to be hemp-derived CBD gummies, which distributors claim are legal.
Tennessee Hemp Industries Association president Joe Kirkpatrick told The Tennessean, “Presently, under the new law, a person can possess an industrial hemp product. If in fact the products they’ve seized derived from industrial hemp, then the DA has broken federal law.” Federal law prohibits law enforcement agencies that receive federal funds from interfering in the cultivation and distribution of licensed industrial hemp.
Rutherford County Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh said, “We feel these stores are marketing these items toward minors. These items can commonly be confused by a child as candy and are illegal.” However, law enforcement officials acknowledge that the products cost between 7$ to $70, multiple times more expensive than traditional candy gummies.
District Attorney Jennings Jones claimed, “If you possess this without a prescription, you have broken the law. If you are selling this without a prescription or if you’re not a pharmacy selling it to someone with a prescription for it, you have broken the law.”
Truth in Media contacted several pharmacies in the state and none carry CBD products. A manager at a Nashville-based vape shop who did not want to be identified told Truth in Media that his store had previously carried hemp CBD gummies, but stopped prior to the raid out of confusion over different agencies’ interpretations of the legality of the products.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-District 11) said in a Facebook post on the incident, “There is a whole lot more to this story than what is being reported. I spoke with the TBI tonight. Several of these stores were selling products from China and other countries. After the TBI took products to their lab, they found that multiple compounds of substances were found in packaged material and they weren’t even labeled to have the compounds found. Melatonin, sugar, ibuprofen, Benadryl, and other things like that were found. From what I have been told nothing was necessarily dangerous or found to be an intoxicant.”
“This is one of the very main reasons we should pass the Medical Cannabis Only bill. We can have a regulated, predictable, safe, and lab tested product. Tennesseans should never be left to purchase something that is derived from the cannabis plant without knowing exactly what they are getting,” Faison added. “I imagine that the majority of the charges will not turn into convictions. One day in the very near future, Tennessee will realize 3 things: cannabis is not the problem, cannabis is far safer than many FDA approved pills, and cannabis actually does work for some very sick Tennesseans.”
According to the Times Free Press, Rep. Faison and Sen. Steve Dickerson(R-Nashville) introduced the Medical Cannabis Only bill on January 18, which would expand medical marijuana access to individuals with qualified serious medical conditions.
The 21 individuals indicted in this case are due in court on February 16.