Tennessee Cannabis Laws

Is Cannabis Legal In Tennessee?
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StateRecreationalMedical MarijuanaCBD
TennesseeNoRestricted Use*Yes

Federal Law:

Recreational Medical MarijuanaCBD

Is recreational cannabis legal in Tennessee?

No. Recreational adult-use of cannabis is illegal in the state. While there is support from the majority of citizens to legalize recreational use, Tennessee was once of the harshest states with possession penalties. For example, possession of any amount used to result in a fine of $250 and up to a year in jail. 

The more populated and liberal municipalities in Tennessee have aided in lessening penalties for possession. In 2016, both Nashville and Memphis decriminalized small amounts of cannabis possession to a $50 fine. This local referendum inspired the latest partial decriminalization in 2020, whereas the Tennessee District Attorney dropped all cannabis possession charges under .5 oz. 

Is Medical Marijuana legal in Tennessee?

No. Full strength medical marijuana is illegal in the state. However, in 2014, with the passing of SB 2531, CBD oil with a low THC percentage became legal for approved patients to treat intractable seizures. 

Unfortunately, the legislation did not provide an effective way for patients to procure legal CBD oil in the state. If patients were caught with possession of CBD, they could be charged state penalties. A year later, with amendment SB 280, Tennessee legalized seizure patients’ ability to procure CBD oil out of state. 

Most recently, in early 2020, the state senate passed a medical marijuana legalization bill, but the legislation had one major conditional aspect. The contingent detail was that full-strength medical marijuana may only be made legal for qualified patients if marijuana was reclassified on the federal level. This caused the bipartisan bill to die in committee, as conservative lawmakers stated “It’s against federal law. And so, until that changes it’s hard to have a discussion.”

Are CBD products legal in Tennessee? 

Yes. Since the passage of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, hemp-derived CBD products are legal under federal law in the United States, as long as they contain at most 0.3% THC. 

Any and all CBD in food and drink is still federally illegal.

Tennessee’s Cannabis Timeline:

1937: The Marihuana (archaic spelling of Marijuana) Tax Act was enacted banning cannabis at the federal level. Medical Marijuana use was still permitted.

1951: The Boggs Act, Sponsored by Hale Boggs and signed into law under President Harry S. Truman, This act set mandatory sentencing and increased punishment for cannabis possession. 

1969: The Marihuana Tax Act is deemed unconstitutional in the landmark Leary v. United States. Timothy Leary, a professor, and activist, was arrested for the possession of marijuana in violation of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Leary then challenged the act because the act required self-incrimination, which violated his Fifth Amendment rights. (The self-incrimination clause provides various protections against self-incrimination, including the right of an individual to not serve as a witness in a criminal case in which they are the defendant, better known as “Pleading the Fifth.” The court’s unanimous opinion of the court was penned by Justice John Marshall Harlan II and declared the Marihuana Tax Act unconstitutional. Therefore, Leary’s conviction was overturned.

1970: The Controlled Substances Act is enacted (replacing the unconstitutional Marihuana Tax Act). Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, thereby prohibiting its use for any purpose. This act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. 

This legislation created five classifications, with specific qualifications for a substance to be included in each. The substances scheduling (classification) are determined by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet, Congress does have the power to schedule or de-schedule substances through legislation. Substance scheduling decisions are based on its potential for abuse, accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and international treaties.

Classification of Controlled Substances:

Schedule I: High potential of abuse, not acceptable for medical use

Schedule II: High potential of abuse, sometimes allowed with “severe restrictions” for medical use

Schedule II: Medium potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule IV: Moderate potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

Schedule V: Lowest potential of abuse, acceptable for medical use

1984-1986: Mandatory Sentencing and the three-strikes law were created under the Reagan Administration. This accounts for some of the harshest drug laws designed including mandatory 25-year imprisonment for certain drug offenses and the promotion of the death penalty to be used against “drug kingpins.”

1998: House Joint Resolution 117, encouraged by the passing of California’s Prop 215, the House of Representatives passed this measure to support the existing Federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of certain drugs.  

2014: The Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment passed in the U.S. House and signed into law prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

2014: Tennessee’s SB 2531 legalized the use of CBD oil with a low percentage of THC, for approved patients to treat intractable seizures. 

2015: Tennessee’s SB 280 legalizes a patient’s ability to procure CBD oil from out of state.

2016: Tennessee municipalities Nashville & Memphis decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis

2018: Farm bill legalizes low-THC hemp nationwide and effectively de-schedules hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act. 

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