The use of marijuana as medicine can be traced back to 2900 BC. In the U.S., the drug first became legal for medical use in 1996, when California passed Proposition 215. The proposition allowed physicians to determine whether “the person’s health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” Today, 29 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, including Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida in the South.
On November 6, 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass amendments legalizing recreational marijuana. Described as a “watershed moment” by supporters, Colorado has raked in over $500 million in revenue since the law went into effect on January 1, 2014, with over half of the funds being used to support K-12 education in the state. Though there have been problems with regulation, teen marijuana use has not increased since legalization. Today, Alaska, California, Oregon, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have joined Colorado and Washington in legalizing marijuana for recreational use. However, at the federal level, marijuana possession and use remains illegal.
In Tennessee, marijuana remains illegal for both medicinal and recreational purposes, with one exception: in May 2015, Governor Haslam signed a bill that legalized a marijuana extract called non-intoxicating cannabidiol oil (CBD) for anyone suffering from debilitating seizures. For the average Tennessean, however, possession of marijuana in amounts under half an ounce can lead to a misdemeanor charge, attendance of a drug course and a fine of at least $250. The sale of marijuana can result in a hefty fine anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000 or a felony charge. For more information on Tennessee drug laws, click here.
In the fall of 2016, the Memphis and Nashville city councils both passed ordinances allowing police to give out lighter civil penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, just seven months later, Governor Haslam signed a repeal of those laws backed by State House and Senate Republicans, citing inconsistency with state-wide drug enforcement laws.