The 2016 Tennessee legislative session, which ended on April 23, saw an incremental improvement in the state’s marijuana policies. Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed HB 1478 into law, which will eliminate the provision that makes a third conviction for possession of marijuana a felony. The law will take effect on July 1, 2016.
This change will reduce the penalty for third-time possession from between one and six years of incarceration to less than one year in jail. In addition, having a misdemeanor rather than a felony record will reduce the collateral consequences associated with the conviction. The bill also increases penalties for repeat DUI offenders and defelonizes third-time possession of all drugs except for heroin.
There is more work to be done, however. The sentences for marijuana possession are still unduly harsh for a drug that is less harmful than alcohol, and the law is enforced in a racially disparate manner. If you are a Tennessee resident, please ask your legislators to consider removing all criminal penalties for marijuana possession in next year’s session.