Updated with response from TBI.
Melody Cashion won't have to convince jurors that she's innocent of drug possession because marijuana is a medical necessity. That was the plan, in one of the first cases of its kind for Tennessee. But instead, the charges in Marshall County have been dropped.
Cashion's defense attorney, Robert Dalton, says he was informed that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation could not confirm that the material confiscated from his client was indeed marijuana and not another variety of cannabis like hemp.
"They had the plant. They had the green, leafy plant material, and yet they couldn't prove that it was an illegal substance," he says.
Cashion testified before state lawmakers in 2017 and continued lobbying Republican lawmakers as they considered medical marijuana again this year. Cashion was using high-powered opioids for nerve pain caused by a rare genetic condition until switching to smoking marijuana, which she says has fewer side effects and is much cheaper. She says she's been off pharmaceuticals for more than a year.
If found guilty at trial, she faced up to a year in prison. Despite the ongoing legal risks, Cashion says she plans to continue advocating for medical marijuana in Tennessee.
"The only way that anything is going to change is if people are willing to stick their necks out," she says. "It seems like everyone is so quick to take a plea and get it over with, but most people arrested with cannabis aren't criminals. They just want to live their lives and don't want any trouble."
Cashion's attorney, Dalton, was working pro bono, hoping to influence the state's drug laws in the process. While grateful for his client, he says he was disappointed that a Tennessee jury didn't get the chance to consider the legal argument for marijuana under current law.
Second Case To Fall Apart
This is the second such case in recent weeks that appears to have fallen apart based on distinguishing between varieties of cannabis. Charges from a sting dubbed "Operation Candy Crush" were also dropped against the owners of nearly two dozen stores in Rutherford County selling CBD oil from hemp.
A spokesman for the TBI said at the time that its lab lacked the ability to distinguish CBD derived from hemp from that derived from marijuana.
In an email this week, staff from the TBI crime lab admit they cannot determine the level of psychoactive THC in cannabis, meaning they can't differentiate between hemp and marijuana, "but we're working on it." The bureau says the Department of Agriculture does have the expensive instruments needed to validate THC levels.
But the prosecutor in the case says observers shouldn't read too much into its dismissal.
"It's not going to be precedent-setting. It's case by case," says Drew Wright, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case in Lewisburg. "We looked at the individual facts of this case and made the determination we could not move forward on this particular count."