By Jedidah McKeehan

If you ever happen to overhear a conversation between a criminal defendant and their attorney, and they are discussing the defendant’s drug use, that conversation may go something like this:

Lawyer: Are you taking any illegal drugs?

Defendant: I only smoke marijuana.

Lawyer:  That is generally considered a less-serious drug and not as addictive as many other drugs, however, while smoking marijuana may not seem like a big deal to many people, it’s still illegal, so stop smoking it.

And what that lawyer would be saying would be true.  While smoking marijuana may not seem like a big deal to many people, and has been legalized in several states, possessing marijuana in Tennessee is still illegal.

In Tennessee, if someone is found to have marijuana they will typically be charged with a violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-418, which is titled, “Simple possession or casual exchange.”  This is the statute that allows law enforcement to arrest individuals who have smaller amounts of marijuana in their possession (less than half an ounce).  If someone is arrested and charged with violating this offense, they will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

When individuals are charged with the above-statute they are almost always charged with its “sister” statute which is Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-425, which is titled, “Unlawful drug paraphernalia uses and activities.”  This statute is also a Class A misdemeanor and law enforcement will charge someone with this crime if they find other “tools of the trade” in the possession of the person they are arresting that are usually associated with using marijuana, such as a bong, scales, or rolling papers.

These two statutes are the low-level marijuana offenses that individuals are charged with hundreds of times a day in Tennessee.  However, if individuals go above and beyond these activities and have: greater quantities of marijuana, are actually selling marijuana (acting as an illegal drug dealer), or perhaps even growing marijuana, then they will be charged with much more serious felony offenses.

What if you are bringing marijuana in to the state that you legally purchased in another state?  There are no Tennessee state drug trafficking laws, but there are federal drug trafficking laws.  Those laws though, are primarily focused on preventing drugs coming in to the country from other countries.

To answer the question though, I think you would be charged with the crime that matches up with the quantity of marijuana that you have in your possession, with less than half an ounce being a Class A misdemeanor, and the charges becoming more serious with the larger amount of marijuana possessed.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.