An advocate for the use of industrial hemp says Rutherford County Attorney General Jennings Jones used the wrong law to indict and arrest the owners of 23 businesses in Rutherford County.
"General Jones could not be more misguided in his attempt to interpret the law. He is completely mistaken, perhaps intentionally so," said Joe Kirkpatrick, president Tennessee Hemp Industries Association.
Kirkpatrick's fiery words come after Rutherford County law enforcement agencies raided 23 businesses and served 21 indictments on people accused of illegally selling hemp-derived products.
Dubbed "Operation Candy Crush," the indictments come from undercover officers from the Sheriff’s Office and Smyrna Police Department purchasing products containing cannabinol, a.k.a., CBD, at the 23 stores.
Kirkpatrick said the sale of products containing CBD is legal and governed by Tennessee Public Chapter 369, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam in 2017.
The law makes any topical or ingestible, industrial hemp-derived products legal to sell and possess in Tennessee as long as the products do not exceed a THC threshold of 0.3 percent. THC is the compound that makes marijuana psychoactive (it's what gets users high).
Jones indicted the store owners under a Tennessee law that allows for the use of a more potent variety that allows for a THC threshold of 0.9 percent. The more potent varieties require a physician's recommendation and proper labeling to be sold. If those products don't meet the state's standard then they are to be treated as a schedule VI drug, the sale of which is a felony.
Jones said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had classified the items seized Monday as schedule VI drugs.
Kirkpatrick said most of the items seized Monday are likely derived from industrial hemp and not marijuana. The two plants are defined differently under state and federal law.
"Unless the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department and the Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and La Vergne municipal law enforcement investigators can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the CBD products were derived from a 'marijuana' source rather than an 'industrial hemp' source, they are in clear contravention of the law allowing the growth, processing, blending, and marketing of such products and the victims of this action should be entitled to petition for any economic and/or punitive damages applicable under the law," he said.
But it may be impossible to tell where the CBD came from, Kirkpatrick said. They can only test for the level of THC in the products.
"Since CBD is an isolated molecule it is impossible to tell if it is derived from industrial hemp or marijuana," he said. "Nonetheless, it doesn’t get anyone high, adult or child."
Now it's up to Jones to prove that the products were illegally produced from marijuana and not industrial hemp.
"If not, he does not have a case and he has made fools of the Sheriff, the respective Chiefs of Police, the Court and the Grand Jury, not to mention violating federal law in the process and wasting thousands of dollars of taxpayer money that could have been spent fighting meth, heroin, or fentanyl. It is as simple as that," Kirkpatrick said.
The origin of the products can be verified if the manufacturer can provide certificates of analysis from a third party and a chain of custody.
"As the hemp industry evolves, we are working with retailers to provide more definitive proof in their labeling. Still, that does not make the product illegal in its present form if derived from industrial hemp," Kirkpatrick said.
All the arrestees were given $10,000 bonds and had court dates set for March.
Michelle Willard is a freelance journalist who fills her days with social media marketing, politics, true crime, and taking complaints. You can complain to her on Twitter @MichWillard or by email michelle(at)murfreesborovoice.com.