NASHVILLE, TN — Joint legislation has been introduced in both chambers of the Tennessee legislature to legalize the possession and “casual exchange” of up to one ounce of marijuana. Well, almost.
The companion bills filed Thursday, House Bill 873 and Senate Bill 1211, won’t allow retail sales of marijuana in the state and Tennesseans won’t be able to grow their own cannabis. The bills simply change Tennessee’s criminal code to require an offender to be caught with an ounce or more of marijuana in order to be charged for possession.
The bills also reduce the penalty for the possession of one ounce or more to a class-c misdemeanor punishable only by a $100 fine, with no possibility of jail time.
Currently, possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana in Tennessee is a class-a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in prison plus mandatory fines for the first or second offenses. First time offenders are slapped with a $250 fine, and second time offenders face a $500 fine. Those caught for a third or subsequent offense face felony charges that can land an offender in prison for 1 to 6 years, plus a mandatory $1,000 fine.
Under the proposal, the non-monetary “casual exchange” of up to half an ounce of marijuana would not be considered sale or distribution. Otherwise, penalties for cultivation and sale of marijuana would remain a felony, with varied penalties depending upon the severity of the offense.
The proposed changes would not affect “non-leafy, resinous material containing tetrahydrocannabinol (hashish),” which would remain illegal in any amount without a prescription.
In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), with Rep. Harold Love (D-Nashville) sponsoring the bill in the House. There are currently no additional co-sponsors.
If passed, the changes to the law would take effect on July 1.