Tennessee legislators can’t get medical marijuana legislation passed to save their lives, but the state’s Bureau of Investigation has announced a new policy that may make it easier on cannabis consumers. The agency will stop testing quantities of marijuana that are under half an ounce.
The shift will supposedly make it prohibitively difficult for prosecutors to build a case against individuals charged with cannabis possession. Without evidence that the substance carried by individuals is cannabis, cops won’t have much to work with.
But as a local news site reports, not everyone is enthused the shift. “This is not necessarily something that should give us any hope,” said Josh Spickler, executive director of justice reform group Just City. “We don’t have decriminalization. It is still a crime, and our police department has been very clear that they pursue arrests for possession of this drug.”
Criminal defense lawyer Brandon Hall says the new 14-gram cutoff may result in more people charged with cannabis offenses opting to go to trial rather than plead guilty.
“It would result in a dismissal because they could not meet their burden of proof to show that the drug, the alleged marijuana, actually contained THC,” Hall said. Currently, the attorney says that not too many possession cases make it to trial, and that the state tries to take care of them before they make it that far.
Despite many pieces of proposed cannabis legislation, Tennessee continues to be a state without legal access to recreational or even medical marijuana. In 2019, for the third consecutive year, a medical cannabis bill went nowhere. Republican state senator and anesthesiologist Steve Dickerson has sponsored the failed plans. He says he will try again next year, when he will hopefully be able to pull together more votes in support of medical cannabis access. Dickerson says the plan is “on the precipice of success,” although it cannot be considered until 2020.
The drag on legalization of even medicinal marijuana runs contrary to the wishes of a lot of state residents. A poll with results published in September found that a full 88 percent of respondents in Chattanooga were in favor of legalizing medicinal cannabis, and 40 percent thought that recreational marijuana should also be regulated.
Tennessee has also seen a rapid expansion in its hemp industry, with the quantity of licensed farmers expanding by almost 1,500 percent in 2019. Many of those, however, have expressed uncertainty about who will buy their crop when it is ready to be processed. Cooperatives have sprung up to help connect producers with suppliers.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced in September that it had developed a minutes-long lab process that could tell the difference between hemp and marijuana. The technology will reportedly assist the agency in processing its current caseload of 10,000 cannabis-related offenses. But happily, thanks to the bureau’s recent memo, it appears that the technology will not be used anytime soon for individuals carrying around a respectable amount of weed.