The legalization of cannabis in various states in the US has set a standard across the country. States where possession, distribution, purchase, and consumption are illegal, are seeing a rise in demand for legalization measures not only for medical marijuana but also for recreational, adult-use products.
While more progressive states such as California and Michigan have fully legalized the plant, some like New York and Ohio only have medicinal cannabis but have decriminalized possession. There are those such as Utah and Florida, which have legalized it for medicinal use, but no decriminalization measures are in place. Some still only allow cannabidiol products but have decriminalized possession.
If you are living in, planning to move to or visit Tennessee, you need want to know what exactly the cannabis laws are in this state. Here are the most important points about marijuana policies in Tennessee you should take note of.
CBD Program: An MMJ Alternative
Medical marijuana patients who want to live in or visit TN need to know that medical marijuana is not legal in the state. There are no MMJ programs in place.
While the state does not have laws legalizing medicinal cannabis, it has a medical CBD program in place since 2014 through Senate Bill 2531. The program allows patients of intractable seizures to possess and consume cannabis oil with high cannabidiol (CBD) and low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Oils should only contain a maximum of 0.9% THC.
Cannabidiol is the chemical compound found in the plant with high medicinal potential. It binds with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors in parts of the digestive, immune, and nervous systems, giving it the ability to regulate many aspects of the human body by boosting or lowering them when needed. This includes energy and relaxation, pain and pleasure, and moods. It is also known to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, which makes it a favored treatment for conditions that cause seizures including epilepsy.
MMJ patients will be pleased to know that Ex-Governor Bill Haslam signed Senate Bill 280 in 2015, which made it legal to possess and use cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. Just keep in mind that no sale of such products is legal within the state, so you will need to obtain medicinal products outside TN. Cannabis oil purchased from other states need to have proof that they were obtained legally. Without such proof, individuals will be charged with a misdemeanor.
Products obtained outside of the state should have an accompanying legal order or recommendation from the state in which the product was purchased. Labels should explicitly show that the items contain no more than 0.9% THC.
Individuals found carrying qualified cannabis oil should also be able to present proof that they or an immediate family member has intractable seizures or epilepsy by a Tennessee doctor.
With only a cannabidiol program existing in the state compared to others with similar characteristics, organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) consider Tennessee’s marijuana laws as “lagging behind.” It remains to be the only one that continues to criminalize marijuana consumers state-wide, including those that use marijuana for medicinal purposes whom MPP noted to opt for “a far safer treatment option than opiates.”
States such as Oklahoma, Missouri, and Utah all had medical marijuana laws approved by their respective voters back in November 2018. Meanwhile, TN is yet to have a voter ballot initiative as of July 2020. Additionally, a bipartisan medical cannabis bill was introduced by legislators but was scrapped during committee sessions. This is not the first time this happened to a similar bill in Tennessee in the past.
Important Developments in TN Cannabis Policies
While progressive marijuana laws are considered overdue in Tennessee, it is important to note that there are significant changes that occurred in the state’s implementation of laws pertaining to cannabis.
Over the recent months, one of the most important signs of progress made in terms of cannabis-related legislation in Tennessee is Nashville city’s decision to stop prosecuting minor marijuana possession charges. The District Attorney’s (DA) Office of Nashville will no longer bring to court such charges because “marijuana charges do little to promote public health,” said DA Glenn Funk.
This move seeks to reduce the disproportionate implementation of marijuana laws, especially as it affects minorities. Moreover, this will minimize expenditures allocated to courts, clerk’s offices, and jail housing related to minor marijuana charges. Instead, the saved money will be directed toward the prosecution of more serious crimes and their victims.
Mayor John Cooper of Nashville was supportive of this decision as it gives potential marijuana patients access to treatments they need. Moreover, Cooper noted that this measure helps minimize the possibilities of non-violent youth ending up in the criminal justice system.
The good news is that the Nashville DA’s Office’s decision not to prosecute minor possession cases was made after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation elected to cease testing minor charges in the entire state. This means that only felony-level possession will be tested with a formal request from the DA’s office along with proof that it is required for trials. This is a big leap for Tennessee because while it does not formally decriminalize minor possession, this decision is expected to minimize the chances of individuals being criminally prosecuted for such cases.
Nashville’s consideration of the decision made by the TN Bureau of Investigation is seen as a positive and meaningful change among pro-legalization groups such as the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition.
Aside from Nashville, Memphis is considered as another city that made significant changes in its marijuana policy. Back in 2016, Nashville and Memphis passed respective ordinances giving police officers the ability to decide whether or not to issue individuals with a civil infraction due to possession of small amounts of cannabis instead of charging them with criminal cases.
However, these ordinances were repealed by then-Governor Bill Haslam as state laws are considered higher than local policies. This makes Nashville’s latest move as one of the most progressive marijuana-related policy changes over the past years aside from the legalization of CBD.
Another important development in TN cannabis law is the enactment of the House Bill 1164, which legalized the production of industrial hemp with 0.3% THC or less. Cultivators of industrial hemp are required to do so only if they have a license issued by the Department of Agriculture. This bill states that hemp is not considered marijuana if the grower is a licensed cultivator or if the crop is non-viable and obtained according to department rules.
However, it is necessary to note that the MPP’s timeline of cannabis policy reforms in TN does not mention any legal way to purchase marijuana within the state. Ex-Governor Haslam did make possession and consumption of cannabis oil legal through SB 280. Nevertheless, this bill did not allow any legal sale of cannabis oil within the state, meaning, Tennessee medical marijuana patients have to purchase products outside the state.
The Senate Bill also makes it legal for higher educational institutions to conduct research using cannabidiol and up to 0.6% THC. Research should focus on diseases including cancer and intractable seizures. Institutions should have certifications issued by the state’s Drug Enforcement Administration.
Residents can participate in such research given that they have the conditions being studied. So, if the study is focused on cancer, then patients with cancer can legally participate.
Cannabis Misdemeanors and Felonies in TN
Cannabis products, specifically oils with 0.9%, may be legal in Tennessee, but possessing marijuana itself in the sate can lead to incarceration and fines. Being caught with ½ ounce or less for the first time is considered a misdemeanor which can lead to 1 year in prison and a fine of $250. For second timers, a year of jail time and a fine of $500 apply.
Possessing hash and concentrates, as well as paraphernalia is also considered a misdemeanor. Hash and concentrates possession comes with a penalty of 11 months jail time and $2,500 fine, while paraphernalia is punishable by one-year jail time and $2,500 fine.
Selling cannabis is considered a felony in this state. Distributing ½ ounce to more than 300 pounds can lead to 1 to 60 years in prison with a fine of $5,000 to $200,000, and this is for first-time offenses. Subsequent charges will be met with higher penalties. Keep in mind that this includes possession with the intention of distributing the products.
Like selling, the cultivation of cannabis plants is also considered a felony. Cultivation of less than 10 to more than 500 plants can be punished with 1 to 60 years jail time and a $5,000 to $500,000 fine.
Meanwhile, the manufacture, delivery, or sale of hash and concentrates, as well as selling paraphernalia are felonies. Manufacturing, delivering, and selling hash and concentrates can result in 6 to 60 years in prison and a $5,000 to $500,000 fine while selling paraphernalia is punishable by 1 to 6 years jail time and a fine of $3,000.
Falsification of drug tests and driving under the influence is also illegal with respective penalties.
A Summary of Cannabis Laws in TN
Cannabis may have strong medicinal potential, but not every state treats this plant the same. In Tennessee, you need to remember that weed, whether for medical or recreational purposes, is not legal. Illegal use and possession can result in misdemeanors and felonies. However, you can purchase cannabidiol products for qualified conditions.
What You Should Know About Cannabis Culture in TN
Now that you know more about laws surrounding marijuana in Tennessee, you may feel more ready about your move or visit. However, you need to consider the culture related to cannabis and cannabis products. Check out the most important ones:
Tax Stamps Exist in TN
When planning to enter the state with marijuana, you need to know that tax stamps are a thing in Tennessee. Tax stamps or unauthorized substances stamps issued by the state as a way of declaring unauthorized products for tax purposes. Marijuana will be taxed $3.5 per gram if you are carrying 42.5 grams or more, while stems will be taxed by $0.40 per gram.
Failure to pay this tax is considered civil and criminal charges. This can result in a penalty of 200% of the tax, plus interest.
While tax stamps are in practice in TN, keep in mind that it has been declared unconstitutional by courts of appeals and is still pending appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.
You Can Hire Marijuana Lawyers
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is a pro-legalization org that works to support decriminalization and full legalization of the plant. In line with this goal, the organization gathered a legal committee in every state in a bid to create a directory of legal professionals that can connect residents to lawyers who can help them.
Freeman and Fuson are a Lifetime Member of NORML’s Legal Committee. Other firms include best and Brock, Mary Alice Carfi, and Taurus Bailey. These lawyers seek to represent and defend residents charged with marijuana-related cases.
Hemp-Derived CBD Oil is Legal
With all the talk about strict regulations pertaining to cannabis oil and its cannabinoid content, you may think that there is no way to purchase CBD oil inside Tennessee. However, you will be pleased to know that patients can buy this product within the state as long as it is extracted from hemp, a CBD-rich variety of the plant.
As mentioned, industrial hemp is legal for cultivation in the state, as long as growers have licenses to do so. These crops can be used to make CBD oil. Just remember that legal CBD oil in TN means that the product only contains less than 0.3% of THC. Such items do not need a doctor’s recommendations.
Tennessee has strict laws pertaining to weed and derived products. With these details, you will be more prepared, especially if you are planning to move to or visit this state, or if you simply want to know the status of marijuana legalization in TN.