Law enforcement authorities called it “Operation Candy Crush.” It was a crackdown on Nashville-area stores selling candy that investigators said contained marijuana. Police seized products, closed the shops, and padlocked the doors.
During a press conference, Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh said stores were taking candy products such as gummy worms. “They take them out of the package. They spray them with this illegal substance,” Fitzhugh said according to the lawsuit. “And then they repackage them…They’ve taken gummy worms and infused them with the illegal substance. And then they repackage them in a different package.”
The raids were made after indictments were handed down against store owners that they were selling illegal substances. Charges had to be dropped, however, when authorities were unable to prove definitively that the candy actually contained any illegal substances. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s labs did the testing but could not prove whether the products contained THC or marijuana derivatives. According to WTVF-TV, the products at the stores in the Rutherford County raid were found to be CBD-based products which are legal in the state of Tennessee.
Store owners feel they were targeted unfairly because of their nationality and have filed suit against the County Sheriff, Police Chief, the District Attorney, and others prosecuting the case. Among other charges, the lawsuit claims store owners were targeted because of their nationality. 12 of 17 store owners targeted in the raids are of Egyptian descent, according to WTVF.
The suit alleges violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs point out that large commercial operations, such as Wal-Mart of Amazon, sold the same or similar products, yet were not targeted for prosecution. This selective prosecution against the small shop owners, the suit alleges, took place because they expected the owners to take a plea deal and pay a fine in order to re-open their business.
“Defendants selectively enforced the law, as they misunderstood it, against Plaintiffs, because Plaintiffs were small business owners, with a perceived lack of resources to defeat the unsupportable claims and criminal charges,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit also claims a violation of the defendant’s civil rights because Rutherford County and the Town of Smyrna failed to adequately train its officers on differences between industrial hemp and marijuana.