Everything You Need to Know About Tennessee’s Cannabis Laws
Here's the skinny on legal weed in Tennessee.
Walking around downtown Nashville on a weekend night, you’ll almost certainly detect an aroma that wasn’t as prevalent in the neighborhood a decade ago. It’s sort of like someone is burning a rope, or perhaps as if a family of skunks just left the room. You know what it is: It’s cannabis, and it’s become a regular part of the Lower Broad scene.
Until Metro recently clamped down on sidewalk vendors in the urban core, they’d set up shoulder-to-shoulder selling gummies, flowers, loose joints, and vape cartridges to tourists looking for a buzz. However, the cannabis situation is more complicated than you might think—and Tennessee is a far cry from Colorado. Here’s the skinny on cannabis laws in Nashville and the state of Tennessee.
Is weed legal in Nashville? What about the rest of Tennessee?
No. Cannabis, in any amount without a doctor’s prescription, is technically still illegal all over Tennessee. Music City, though, has twice made efforts to decriminalize possession of small amounts. In 2016, both Nashville and Memphis made significant attempts to minimize punishments for being caught with a joint or two, with Memphis lowering the fine for such amounts to $50. However, the buzzkills in the state legislature repealed these policies less than a year later and passed a law preventing local city governments from developing their own regulations. Finally in 2020, Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk announced that his office would not prosecute simple possession violations for less than half an ounce of cannabis, but it’s technically still a crime.
Okay, so how can I get a prescription?
Unfortunately, you’ll need to get really sick. Cannabis (specifically CBD oils with no more than 0.9% THC) is only legal for very limited medicinal uses, like for treatment of epilepsy, cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS, AIDS, and a handful more—and only with a prescription from a physician. It gets worse: The state hasn’t actually made a provision for the legal sale of these products within Tennessee.
So there’s nowhere to legally buy medical cannabis in Tennessee?
Nope. Even if patients do receive a doctor’s note to use the more potent oils, they must acquire the products from outside Tennessee to legally possess them. The legislature has considered multiple medical cannabis bills throughout the past decade, but—as of 2023—there's no way to legally purchase cannabis products with a THC level higher than .3% in Tennessee.
Is recreational weed coming to Tennessee soon...or ever?
Anecdotally, some say that weed is Tennessee’s top cash crop over soybeans, corn, and cotton, so somebody is probably getting it somehow. Lawmakers have introduced policy at almost every recent legislative session to address both medical and recreational cannabis use, and the tide may be slowly turning as more legislators recognize the potential financial boon that legally growing weed would offer their districts’ rural farmers. It sure looks like at least some farmers have been getting in a little “practice” cultivating cannabis in advance of future legislation changes.
How much trouble can I actually get into?
Penalties for possessing or selling weed in Tennessee can still be severe. Possession of up to one ounce of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 (though the current Nashville district attorney won’t prosecute for small amounts). Possession of more than one ounce of cannabis is a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Selling it can still get you charged with a felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. In short, you might not want to chance it.
What about CBD and delta-8 and delta-9 THC?
This is where it gets a little bit fuzzier. Both THC and CBD are derivatives of the cannabis plant, sort of like how regular and decaf coffee are both made from cacao beans but one of them will give you a bigger buzz.
In Tennessee, politicians used a farm law to decouple hemp production from marijuana laws as long as the THC content of the product is below .3%. While there are tests to determine whether that loose joint you bought on the corner is CBD- or THC-based, it seems unlikely that police patrolling downtown have the time to do lab tests on the sidewalk.
With the farm bill of 2017, industrial hemp production took off among cannabis entrepreneurs, and there are some impressive indoor and outdoor grow facilities spread across the state. The cannabis is processed into CBD ointments, oils, buds, gummies, candies, canned cocktails, etc. under the watchful eye of the Department of Agriculture which monitors THC content in the end products.
Like CBD, delta-8 and delta-9 are hemp and hemp-derived cannabinoids, but the deltas are known for producing more psychoactive effects. Both are still limited by the federal .3% THC limit, but that doesn’t mean most folks won’t experience at least a bit of a buzz from these products.
Okay, I’m sold! Where do I find CBD, delta-8, and delta-9 products in Nashville?
Basically, anywhere where intoxicants are sold at retail. Vape stores, dab bars, smoke shops, and mail-order businesses have popped up faster than daffodils after a spring rain. Remember how it seemed like franchisees were willing to build a Starbucks in the bathroom of a Starbucks or a Subway in the parking lot of a Subway in the 1990s? That’s the kind of land rush Nashville is seeing in the cannabis business. One of the fastest-growing chains is The Holistic Connection, a legal THC and cannabis dispensary with more than a dozen locations around Middle Tennessee.
The Holistic Connection, also known by its acronym THC (get it?), offers dab bar tasting experiences with “sommeliers” describing the effects of different products and facilitating sampling. Patrons can also make reservations for a private table with a dab and rig to enjoy passing a little time with a “budtender” the same way one might spend an evening at the bar enjoying cocktails or beer. The experience is based on an Amsterdam coffee shop vibe, set up like a cannabis version of wine tasting.
What about this cannabis restaurant I’ve heard about?
Buds and Brews is a sister company to The Holistic Connection and Nashville’s first cannabis-based restaurant. The vertically-integrated company controls the growing, processing, and distribution of its hemp-derived products from the soil to its retail shops and restaurant. The attractive space in Germantown looks similar to a slightly funky fern bar or sports bar when you enter. After the host checks to make sure you are 21 or up, you are escorted to a spot at the bar or a table where a server explains the choice of experiences.
You can order the “vapor tap” experience at an hourly rate, sort of like a personal dab bar for the table. Or opt for a beverage-based encounter with a selection of THC-infused fruit juices and mocktails garnished with cannabis leaves as a reminder of what you’re drinking. To ensure a consistent (and legal) concentration of THC in the drinks, they are created off-site and served in pouches like adult juice boxes. The third option is based around the food menu, a pretty typical offering of pub grub, but with cheeky names like 420 Pretzels, Nugged Out Nachos, and Dank Dips-n-Veggies. There is no THC in the food, but diners can pick from two dozen “THC-infused culinary sauces” that are also produced off-site. Arriving in precious little two-ounce bottles like room service ketchup, the sauces come in a host of flavors ranging from barbecue, honey mustard, marinara, ranch, blue cheese, and garlic butter. Not only will they enhance the flavor of whatever dish you’re eating, but they’ll also introduce a little THC to the party. Be safe getting home.