Tennessee is one of the more conservative states that’s seemingly having a change of heart recently regarding marijuana.
Just this month, two Republican lawmakers filed bills that aim to create a medical cannabis commission that will study the descheduling of marijuana. The bills, SB118/HB490, sponsored by Sen. Ferrell Haile and Rep. Bryan Terry calls for a 9 person commission composed of representatives from each of the state’s three grand divisions as well as a physician and a pharmacist. The members will be experts in health care, mental health, business, management, agriculture, or law enforcement.
Meanwhile, a decriminalization bill is already poised to be tackled in the next few months. Filed by Rep. London Lamar, HB 413 seeks to legalize possession of amounts less than one ounce (28.35 grams). The bill would also allow giving, but not selling, small amounts of marijuana. If approved by its respective committees and passed both chambers, the bill will take effect on July 1, 2021. Nashville had already stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses involving less than half an ounce last year.
These bills represent progress, no matter how small, considering that Tennessee is a state where medical marijuana legislation failed multiple years in a row, even with republican backing. Last year, the opposition successfully sabotaged an already restrictive medical marijuana bill that passed the Senate Health and Welfare committee by adding an amendment that requires cannabis to be descheduled by the federal government before a medical marijuana program gets implemented. But now that an effort to legalize marijuana at the federal level is already in the works, it remains to be seen if the Volunteer State will continue to be uptight about weed this year.
Overview of Tennessee Marijuana Laws
Up to this day, both medical and recreational marijuana are still illegal in Tennessee. Only CBD or low-THC (up to 0.9%) cannabis oil is allowed under SB 280. However, the sale of such products are still prohibited which is why patients will have to purchase them from other states.
- Possession – Simple possession of half an ounce or less is a misdemeanor in Tennessee.
- First offense – jail time of a year and a fine of up to $250.
- Subsequent offenses – jail time of a year and a fine of up to $500.
- Sale/Distribution – Selling and possession with intent to distribute marijuana in Tennessee is a felony with subsequent offenses carrying higher penalties.
- Between 1/2 oz to 10 lbs – Jail time of 1 to 6 years and a maximum fine of $5000.
- Between 10 to 70 lbs – Jail time of 2 to 12 years and a maximum fine of $50,000.
- Between 70 to 300 lbs – Jail time of 8 to 30 years and a maximum fine of $100,000.
- More than 300 lbs – Jail time of 15 to 60 years and a maximum fine of $200,000.
- Cultivation – Illegally growing marijuana in Tennessee is also a felony with subsequent offenses carrying higher penalties.
- Less than 10 plants – Jail time of 1 to 6 years and a maximum fine of $5000.
- 10 – 19 plants – Jail time of 2 to 12 years and a maximum fine of $50,000.
- 20 – 99 plants – Jail time of 3 to 15 years and a maximum fine of $100,000.
- 100 – 499 plants – Jail time of 8 to 30 years and a maximum fine of $200,000.
- More than 500 plants – Jail time of 15 to 60 years and a maximum fine of $500,000.
History of Marijuana in Tennessee
The Volunteer State does not have much history with marijuana, which is expected from a fairly conservative state. The state pretty much stayed in prohibition mode until 2015 when it reluctantly legalized CBD oil. Possibly spurred by external pressure from a growing number of states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana at that time, Gov. Bill Haslam signed SB 280 into law despite his previous opposition. It is worth noting that in 1981, HB 314 led to the creation of a therapeutic research program for marijuana and THC for cancer chemotherapy or radiology or glaucoma (marijuana or THC). However, it did nothing to make marijuana available to patients and the program was ultimately repealed by SB 1818 in 1992. Similarly, a CBD law, SB 2531, which was passed in 2014 tasked a hospital or state university-affiliated clinic to supervise the study of cannabis oil and allowed Tennessee Tech to even grow marijuana. This program was also a failure since the institutions did not want to participate since they were unable to get authorization from federal law enforcement.
The law was then revised in 2016 to allow qualified patients to possess CBD oils with THC levels of no more than 0.9%. Nevertheless, the rules were still highly restrictive since HB 2144 stated that those who wish to possess need “proof of the legal order or recommendation from the issuing state”, proof that they or their immediate family member has been diagnosed with intractable seizures or epilepsy by a Tennessee doctor, and the oil must be labeled by the manufacturer to show that it contains no more than 0.9% THC.
Around this time, marijuana supporters began pushing back at the municipal level. In 2015, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws launched a petition to get a referendum on that year’s ballot for Davidson County to defund local law enforcement prosecution against possession of small amounts. In the following year, Nashville and Memphis decriminalized possession of small amounts. Both efforts were unsuccessful as the measure failed to reach the ballot while decriminalization in both cities were repealed seven months later.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Tennessee
How does Tennessee’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Tennessee
Adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Tennessee.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not yet allowed in Tennessee.
Only CBD or low-THC (up to 0.9%) cannabis oil is allowed in Tennessee.
Two bills, SB118/HB490 that call for the creation of a commission that aims to create a medical cannabis commission that will study the descheduling of marijuana, is set to be heard in the next few months. Another bill, HB 413, seeks to legalize possession of amounts less than one ounce (28.35 grams). It will also allow giving, but not selling, small amounts of marijuana.
Nobody is allowed to grow medical marijuana in Tennessee.
Tennessee residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana at home.
Growing marijuana in Tennessee is still illegal for residents of all ages.
It is likely that Tennessee will see statewide decriminalization and possibly expansion of its medical marijuana laws this year. However, recreational legalization in the state may be fully dependent on what the federal government decides to do. Even then, given its fairly conservative makeup, there’s a good chance that narrow and restrictive marijuana laws will be passed in the Volunteer State in the next few years since there is no option for cannabis advocates to put measures by way of a ballot initiative before voters.