Tennessee has officially legalized cannabis oil for limited medical reasons. While the law makes possession and use of cannabis oil legal in certain cases for treatment of intractable epilepsy, the legislation appears to open up a legal grey area for Tennessee families. Because marijuana laws are in flux both in Tennessee and throughout the United States, a debate has been sparked over whether Tennesseans who are in compliance with the state’s recently passed legislation could nonetheless be exposing themselves to federal prosecution for marijuana possession. With Tennessee lawmakers already considering another medical marijuana bill, the issue seems unlikely to die anytime soon.
Furthermore, cannabis oil itself is still considered a Class I drug by the federal government meaning that using cannabis oil in any state could still put users in violation of federal law. Although, for the time being, the federal government has largely decided to take a hands-off approach to the situation and not enforce the federal prohibition when it conflicts with state laws, there is no guarantee that such an approach will continue into the future.
Limited state law appears to conflict with federal prohibition still in place
The bill that was recently signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam allows for the use of cannabis oil in Tennessee in order to treat seizures caused by intractable epilepsy. Anybody who wants to use the oil, which is extracted from the marijuana plant, will have to obtain a prescription from a doctor licensed in Tennessee. Although research into cannabis oil’s effectiveness in treating seizures is ongoing, many people, particularly parents of young children suffering from epilepsy, claim that the substance has helped reduce the severity of seizures.
That requirement already opens up a potentially legal pitfall for families in Tennessee. Within the medical marijuana community, a debate is ongoing about whether people who buy cannabis oil from out-of-state and bring it into Tennessee may be opening themselves up to criminal prosecution. While companies who import cannabis oil into Tennessee say that the federal Farm Bill allows for cannabis oil to be brought over state lines, others insist that the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits such importation, supersedes the Farm Bill.
One complication of the law, however, is that the legislation does not allow for cannabis oil to be manufactured within Tennessee, meaning anybody who wishes to obtain the substance will have to get it from a state that has legalized its manufacture, such as Colorado.
iii) If in the possession of an individual who has proof of order or recommendation from the issuing state. The individual should also provide proof that they or an immediate family member is suffering from epilepsy or intractable seizures diagnosed by a licensed doctor, and that the oil contains less than 0.9% THC.
The cities of Memphis and Nashville stopped treating the possession of minimal amounts of cannabis as criminal offenses in 2016. Rather, offenders face a civil penalty. This essentially lowers the fine to ii) If it is used for a certified clinical research study by a university and doesn’t exceed 0.6% THC and about 10 hours of community service as punishment.
CBD in Tennessee: Legality
In 2014, legislators in Tennessee passed Senate Bill 2531. This bill made changes to the definition of marijuana which created an exception to the illegality of possession and use of high-CBD low-THC cannabis oil. Patients suffering from intractable seizures could now use low-THC, CBD-rich cannabis oil for their condition.
However, considering that there are currently no legal avenues to buy CBD products containing up to 0.9% THC in Tennessee, patients have to procure medicinal cannabis products from other states. They have to provide proof that the product was purchased from another state otherwise they can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor offense which carries a fine of up to $50 and/or a 30-day jail term or both.
In 2016, Senate Bill 2125 was signed into law. This bill made amendments to the section regarding university research. It permitted the research of CBD-rich cannabis oil containing less than 0.6% THC. The bill excluded cannabis oil with less than 0.6% THC from the definition of marijuana.