Judge drops marijuana possession charges against man whose CBD store was raided in Dade County, Georgia

Steven Ellis poses for a photo at The Shop by Stevie and The Moon Wednesday, April 3, 2019 in Trenton, Georgia. The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force, Dade County Sheriff's Office and Trenton Police Department raided Ellis' wellness shop on Thursday, seizing a bunch of CBD products with THC. Ellis said he was unsure of why some of the products were left behind while others were seized.

A Dade County, Georgia, man whose CBD store was raided this spring is no longer facing marijuana possession charges.

In April, the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force raided Steve Ellis' store, The Shop by Stevie and the Moon on Georgia Highway 136.

Six months later - after he spent five days in jail, lost $6,000 worth of his product and with his business doing about a fourth of what it was before the arrest - Ellis said he's finally looking forward to putting this all behind him.

However, that doesn't mean he's cooled off.

"It's been an emotional rollercoaster," Ellis said. "Even though I knew my products were legal, you still don't know what could happen. I don't understand why I was targeted for this."

Ellis said that in early April, agents from the drug task force raided his shop and arrested him.

During the arrest, he said, one of the task force officers told him someone had been kicked off a football team for failing a drug test.

Ellis said a rumor he heard secondhand was the likely reason for his arrest.

Agents said at least one product tested positive for marijuana during a field test at the store. They seized 250 items and charged Ellis with distribution of a controlled substance, possession of a Schedule I drug and violation of probation, stemming from a previous arrest from a period in his life that involved methamphetamine and a burglary. They also took a log book and money from the cash register and envelopes, which he says would go to vendors who sell products in the shop, such as soaps and costume jewelry.

At the time, Ellis told the Times Free Press that he called a contact at the Dade County Sheriff's Office for clarity on Georgia's new hemp laws.

"I said, 'I want to sell CBD oil, but I don't want to go to jail,'" he said in April. "That's word for word. Verbatim. They said, 'These smoke shops, they get busted. They start with CBD products, and they start sneaking in marijuana oil.' I assumed that was full-on marijuana vapes."

Ellis spent five days in the Dade County Jail until he received a $10,000 bond.

"It was hell," he said. "I was on probation for six months. I had a 9 o'clock curfew. I've never had a 9 o'clock curfew, not even in middle school."

On Oct. 10, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Roberts of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit dropped the charges due to insufficient evidence.

Drug Task Force Commander Dewayne Brown said in April that Ellis was mistaken to believe the federal farm bill gave him the green light to sell some of those products. The farm bill legalized hemp, a fiber from the cannabis plant, so long as its THC level was 0.3% or lower. But while Ellis purchased the products online, advertised with proper THC levels, the law still didn't have weight in Georgia at the time.

The drug task force agents took products ranging from CBD gummy candies to dog treats, based off field tests they conducted at the store. The tests involved mixing compounds with the products that are supposed to give a physical sign if the drug's makeup matches that of a known, illegal product.

Those tests at the store resulted in Ellis' arrest, but more substantial tests resulted in the charges being dropped.

The task force sent Ellis' products to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's crime lab, where investigators performed more robust tests to get a better picture. Tests at the GBI crime lab showed that Ellis' products did not have THC content over the 0.3% level allowed under state law.

Ellis said he is working to get the business back in his name and waiting on all the products that were taken from him to be returned.

Even though the past six months have been tough on him, support from the community of Trenton has kept his spirits high, he said.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.