Understanding Cannabis Laws in Tennessee

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Cannabis laws in Tennessee are far from simple. As one of the most widely debated and regulated substances in the country, understanding the intricacies of cannabis regulation in Tennessee requires careful navigation. While many states have taken more lenient stances on marijuana, Tennessee stands firm with some of the strictest laws in the nation.


Whether it’s the outright prohibition of recreational marijuana, the limited exceptions for hemp-derived products like CBD and delta-8 THC, or the penalties and consequences associated with various offenses, Tennessee’s cannabis laws are multifaceted and demanding. This blog will delve into the complexity of Tennessee’s stance on marijuana, the legal intricacies of hemp-derived products, recent legislative changes, and offer invaluable tips for responsible cannabis usage in a legal environment that is as nuanced as it is stringent. It is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the web of regulations that govern cannabis within the state.

Is Marijuana Legal In Tennessee?

The short answer is no. In the state of Tennessee, marijuana is classified as a Schedule VI controlled substance, and its possession, sale, or manufacture is illegal for recreational purposes. While some states in the U.S. have moved toward legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, Tennessee has not adopted such measures as of the time of this blog’s publication. Additionally, Tennessee does not have a medical marijuana program, and medical marijuana cards from other states will not protect an individual from prosecution.

Penalties for Marijuana Possession in Tennessee

Tennessee’s approach to marijuana is strict and unambiguous—possessing, cultivating, or selling marijuana in the state can lead to serious legal consequences. Here’s an overview of the laws and penalties:

Simple Possession
  • 1/2 oz or Less (first offense): Class A misdemeanor with up to 1 year of incarceration and fines up to $250.
  • 1/2 oz or Less (subsequent offense): Similar charges as above with a fine of up to $500.
Sale or Possession with Intent to Distribute
  • 1/2 oz to 10 lbs: Class E felony, with 1 to 6 years of imprisonment and fines up to $5,000.
  • 10 to 70 lbs: Class D felony, with 2 to 12 years of imprisonment and fines up to $50,000.
  • 70 to 300 lbs: Class B felony, with 8 to 30 years of imprisonment and fines up to $100,000.
  • More than 300 lbs: Class A felony, with 15 to 60 years of imprisonment and fines up to $200,000.


A common misconception is that having more than half an ounce of marijuana causes the marijuana charge to become a Class E felony. Many officers and even criminal defense lawyers believe that to be true. However, the State must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there is circumstantial evidence of an intent to sell or distribute. This usually requires individually packaged marijuana, scales, large amounts of cash, and/or proof through text messages or other co-defendants. Otherwise, there is an argument that it is only for personal usage and therefore possession. People buy marijuana for personal usage in bulk and therefore the State must establish an intent to distribute. It is essential that your criminal defense attorney holds the State to their burden of establishing intent to distribute.

Marijuana Cultivation
  • 10 Plants or Less: Class E felony, punishable by 1 to 6 years of imprisonment and fines up to $5,000.
  • 10 to 19 Plants: Class D felony, with 2 to 12 years of imprisonment and fines up to $50,000.
  • 20 to 99 Plants: Class C felony, with 3 to 15 years of imprisonment and fines up to $100,000.
  • 100 to 499 Plants: Class B felony, with 8 to 30 years of imprisonment and fines up to $200,000.
  • More than 500 Plants: Class A felony, with 15 to 60 years of imprisonment and fines up to $500,000.

Tennessee’s laws make it clear that marijuana possession, cultivation, or sale is taken seriously, and the penalties are designed to be a strong deterrent. Whether a misdemeanor for small amounts or a felony for larger quantities, the consequences can have lasting impacts on an individual’s personal and professional life.

CBD and Delta-8 THC in Tennessee

While traditional marijuana products remain subject to strict legal controls in Tennessee, CBD and Delta-8 THC, derived from hemp, have become increasingly popular and accessible. Understanding their legality, source, and function within the state is vital for consumers and providers alike.

The 2018 Farm Bill: A New Era for Hemp Products

The 2018 Farm Bill was groundbreaking legislation that transformed the legal landscape for hemp in the United States. By defining hemp as any part of the cannabis plant with no more than 0.3% THC, this bill removed hemp from the Schedule I controlled substances list, making hemp-derived products like CBD and delta-8 THC legal.

CBD in Tennessee

CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive compound found in both marijuana and hemp plants. In Tennessee, CBD products derived from hemp, with THC content less than 0.3%, are legal and can be purchased without a prescription. These products have become popular for their purported health benefits, including pain relief and mood regulation.

Delta-8 THC in Tennessee

Delta-8 THC is another cannabinoid derived from hemp, with a chemical structure similar to the more potent delta-9 THC. However, delta-8 THC produces milder psychoactive effects. Under the guidelines set by the 2018 Farm Bill, delta-8 THC products containing no more than 0.3% of delta-9 THC are legal in Tennessee.

In May 2023, Gov. Bill Lee signed new regulations into law for hemp-derived cannabinoid products, including delta-8 THC. These rules impose age restrictions, taxes, testing, and labeling requirements, as well as penalties for violations.

A Brief Note on Delta-8 THCO and Delta-9 THCO

It’s worth mentioning briefly that not all THC derivatives are treated equally. In February 2023, the DEA banned delta-8 THCO and delta-9 THCO, cannabinoids derived from legal hemp but considered synthetic under the federal Controlled Substances Act. This ruling highlights the complexity of the legal landscape around hemp derivatives and emphasizes the need for staying informed about state-specific regulations.

DUI and Public Intoxication Charges for Cannabis Users in Tennessee

Although CBD and delta-8 THC products are legal in Tennessee, it is essential to recognize that their usage can still lead to legal trouble. Operating a vehicle or being in public while under the influence of these products, even if consumed legally, can result in DUI or public intoxication charges. These offenses can carry serious consequences for your personal and professional life.

Understanding DUI and Public Intoxication in Tennessee

DUI, or driving under the influence, is a criminal offense that applies to anyone who operates a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs, including cannabis products. It is not just limited to driving—operating boats or heavy machinery can also lead to a DUI charge. In Tennessee, penalties can vary depending on factors such as prior convictions, the driver’s age, and the level of impairment.

Public intoxication is a misdemeanor offense that applies to anyone who appears in public under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including cannabis products, to the degree that they endanger themselves or others or unreasonably annoy people in the vicinity. Unlike DUI, public intoxication doesn’t require the operation of a vehicle. The law aims to preserve public peace and order, and conviction can lead to fines and jail time.

How Impairment is Determined

The legal definition of impairment varies depending on the type of charge. For DUI, impairment means that your ability to drive or operate machinery safely is affected by alcohol or drugs, regardless of the amount consumed. Police officers may look for signs like erratic driving, slow response, or failure to obey traffic signals.

For public intoxication, impairment means that your behavior or appearance is affected by alcohol or drugs, to the degree that you pose a risk or nuisance. Officers might consider your speech, demeanor, coordination, and any disruption caused.

In both cases, impairment is determined by the totality of the circumstances, including:

  • Physical and mental condition: Symptoms such as slurred speech, unsteady walk, glazed eyes, and inappropriate behavior may indicate impairment.
  • Performance on field sobriety tests (FSTs): Standard tests include walking in a straight line, standing on one leg, or following a moving object with your eyes.
  • Appearance and odor: Signs like red eyes, dilated pupils, and the odor of cannabis may raise suspicion.
  • Blood results: If you provide a blood sample, the blood results will show marijuana in three different variants. Only one variant in your blood establishes the active level in your blood that is potentially causing an impairing effect or the intended effects of marijuana through a ng/ml reading. Some states have a presumptive minimum such as the .08% alcohol of 3 ng/ml of the active marijuana. However, numerous studies including from the NHTSA state that there is no way to establish impairment solely based on the active level because the inactive number, or the frequency someone uses marijuana will cause the active level to be higher before the intended effects are exhibited due to tolerance.


Detection for cannabis usage is difficult, as there is no reliable measure of impairment based on blood or saliva levels. Unlike alcohol, with a clear correlation between blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and impairment, cannabis affects different people differently. Officers must rely on observations, questions about usage, field sobriety tests, and drug recognition experts.

Tips for Responsible Cannabis Usage In Tennessee

While traditional marijuana usage remains illegal in Tennessee, the legal landscape for hemp-derived products like CBD and delta-8 THC has evolved. However, even legal usage can lead to criminal penalties if not approached responsibly. Here are some essential tips for using cannabis in Tennessee responsibly:

  • Know the Law: Stay informed about the latest laws and regulations regarding cannabis products in Tennessee. This includes understanding the difference between illegal marijuana and legal hemp-derived products such as CBD and delta-8 THC.
  • Check Product Compliance: Ensure that any CBD or delta-8 THC products you purchase comply with state regulations. Look for reputable sellers who provide lab-tested products with clear labeling that verifies the THC content is within legal limits.
  • Avoid Driving Under Influence: Though CBD and delta-8 THC might be legal, operating a vehicle under their influence can still result in DUI charges. Plan ahead if you intend to consume these products by arranging alternative transportation.
  • Be Mindful of Public Behavior: Public intoxication charges can arise from cannabis usage, even if the products used are legal. Be aware of your behavior and surroundings when consuming these products in public spaces.
  • Consider Your Work and Professional Life: Some employers may have policies against cannabis usage, even if legal. Understand your workplace policies and consider potential professional repercussions.

Contact Barnes & Fersten For Guidance

Navigating the legal intricacies surrounding cannabis in Tennessee requires a comprehensive, client-focused approach. At Barnes & Fersten, our criminal defense attorneys are committed to delivering personalized, precise legal solutions tailored to your unique circumstances. Whether you’re contending with a possession charge or more serious allegations, our team is prepared to guide you through each step of the legal process. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.