Tennessee Marijuana Laws: Is Change in the Future?

This is a guest post from Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew Deegan. Andrew is an author and frequent contributor on criminal defense topics. Read more about Andrew on his website. The views and opinions of author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of this law office.

Like so many other issues, there is still a deep divide in the nation regarding marijuana laws. I practice law in Texas. In Tennessee, just like Texas, possession of marijuana will get you arrested and charged. In other states, including Washington and Colorado, marijuana is fully legalized.

Recent Changes
The District of Columbia just legalized marijuana, allowing anyone in the small federal brainstem of our country, where our highest levels of federal government sit, to freely consume marijuana. It’s a remarkable shift in national attitudes toward this notorious plant that was not too long ago penalized harshly on both federal and state levels.

This is part of a greater trend over the last several years that started with states such as Colorado and Washington moving toward full legalization. Oregon did the same last year, and other states are likely to follow.

There are many reasons for this shift. Proponents of marijuana believe it is not only medically beneficial, but recreationally harmless. Proponents also point out the vast resources spent on jailing and prosecuting people for simple possession of marijuana and how those resources could be used elsewhere.

Obviously, some states strongly disagree. Nebraska and Oklahoma, for instance, sued the State of Colorado in federal court to prevent their legalization on the grounds that it violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Marijuana Laws in Tennessee
Possession of marijuana is still aggressively prosecuted in Tennessee, across the South, and in other conservative states, including my home state of Texas. For residents of Middle Tennessee, simple possession of marijuana will still get you arrested and charged.

Tennessee has harsher possession penalties for marijuana crimes than Texas. In Tennessee, marijuana possession of more than half of an ounce is a felony, while marijuana possession of less than half an ounce is a misdemeanor. In Texas, you need to have more than four ounces to be charged with felony possession of marijuana.

Throughout the South, including Tennessee, Texas, and other states, there are still punitive marijuana laws that likely will not be swept up in the recent wave of change.

Despite this, economic incentives to legalizing marijuana are starting to move the needle, especially in bigger cities. In order to keep costs down, big counties like Dallas County, near where I practice, have considered no longer arresting people for amounts under two ounces to keep costs down.

Will Tennessee and Texas ultimately move toward legalization of marijuana? I think that it will happen eventually and that the economic incentives to legalize marijuana and tax it will eventually prevail. However, I don’t think it’s likely to happen anytime soon. What do you think?