Bottom Line: Tennessee prohibits the possession and use of all types of recreational cannabis, though has introduced a basic and restrictive medical cannabis framework that permits the use of low-THC cannabis oils.
What’s the Current Situation with Cannabis in Tennessee?
Tennessee has always been notorious for its conservative approach to cannabis policy. Even today, possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use is still considered a misdemeanor, paving the way for possible jail time.
A very basic medical cannabis framework was recently brought into effect, though exclusively permits the use of non-psychoactive CBD oils under the formal recommendation of a physician. For the time being at least, there are no indications of major reforms to recreational or medicinal cannabis policy in the state of Tennessee.
Attempted Municipal Decriminalization of Cannabis
In stark contrast to elsewhere, Tennessee has proven entirely inflexible and uncompromising on the subject of localized/municipal decriminalization of cannabis. As recently as 2016, both Memphis and Nashville successfully introduced new legislation that decriminalizes the possession of small quantities of cannabis. In Memphis, what was previously a misdemeanor that could result in jail time was reduced to a $50 on-the-spot citation.
Remarkably, a repeal was signed into Tennessee law seven months later that reversed this localized decriminalization. Worse still, new statewide legislation was brought into effect to prohibit local governments from introducing their own localized policies at any point in the future. Despite the fact that a sizeable majority of Tennessee’s citizens support decriminalization of recreational cannabis and the legalization of medical cannabis, the state remains reluctant to relax its infamously restrictive rules.
Can I Legally Buy Recreational Marijuana in Tennessee?
No, and it’s advisable to avoid carrying or consuming cannabis in even the smallest quantities. As small-scale possession has not been decriminalized in Tennessee, it’s technically possible to be sent to jail for up to a year as a first offence. Even if you’re carrying less than you’d need to roll a joint and your record is spotless, a long stay behind bars isn’t out of the question.
Any subsequent offences will likely see you facing a felony charge, often punishable by six years in prison.
What About Medical Marijuana in Tennessee?
The medical cannabis issue is something of a grey area in Tennessee, where no comprehensive medical cannabis laws have yet been passed. Attempts to legalize recreational cannabis in line with other US states have so far been shot down by lawmakers. Which is particularly tragic, given how the vast majority of Tennesseans whole-heartedly support medical cannabis.
To date, the closest Tennessee has come to a medical cannabis framework was the introduction of a 2014 bill that legalized the use of low-THC cannabis oils. Even then, patients with intractable seizures who were prescribed the oil were unable to get hold of it, highlighting the outright ineffectiveness of the bill. A subsequent bill signed into law in 2015 authorized qualifying patients to obtain their CBD oil from vendors outside the state, which likewise must contain no more than 0.3% THC.
Is Cultivation of Cannabis Permitted in Tennessee?
Absolutely not, unless you want to spend the next six years in prison. For first-time offences and therapeutic cannabis users alike, the cultivation of even a single cannabis seeds plant is expressly prohibited. With just a single plant in a private residence, you’re likely to be handed a mandatory custodial sentence and a fine of up to $5000 as an added bonus.
Will Medical Cannabis be Legalized More Broadly?
The biggest issue facing cannabis policy in Tennessee is that the state lacks a voter initiative process. This means that state law can only be changed by elected officials, who for the most part have pretty conservative and outdated views on the whole subject. One example of which being House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who recently said “It's against federal law. And so, until that changes it's hard to have a discussion.”
Legalization of cannabis at a Federal level may never happen, which paints an unfortunate picture for the future of cannabis policy in Tennessee. Particularly when considering the fact that more than 80% of voters in Tennessee believe that it should be down to doctors and patients alone to decide who uses medical cannabis and for which conditions.
Widespread legalization of medical cannabis is therefore completely off the cards for 2020 at least.
Current Marijuana Laws in Tennessee
As mentioned, Tennessee is definitely not the place to get caught carrying, consuming or cultivating cannabis. If it’s not an authorized low-THC cannabis oil you’ve being prescribed by a physician, it’s expressly forbidden…period.
As things stand, possession of even the smallest quantities of cannabis is punishable in Tennessee by a fine of up to $2500 and a year in jail. If you push your luck by attempting to grow 10 or fewer plants at home, you’ll be committing a felony and could spend the next six years in jail. Jail time increasing for each additional plant beyond this initial threshold of 10.
Not only is the state of Tennessee clearly against widespread decriminalization, but lawmakers continue to block attempts at localized decriminalization. All of which makes Tennessee one of the few remaining states where the opinions of citizens and local authorities alike fall completely on deaf ears.