Look… weed should be legal to possess and use, we agree, but Tennessee is behind the curve on this issue.
Getting caught with any amount of weed, in almost any form, will get you a marijuana citation or physically arrested in Tennessee.
Yes, even in the more “chill” spaces of Davidson County, including Nashville. While ridiculous, it is the reality – for now. (Update: Davidson County Prosecutors won’t prosecute most marijuana-related simple possession charges but the Davidson county police department said its officers will still enforce the law.)
Being charged does not have to be scary. If you have a road map (or a drug lawyer), you won’t get lost in the anxiety and uncertainty of facing charges.’
- Can I Be Given A Citation For Fake Or Synthetic Weed (Spice, K2)?
- Simple Possession Charge Tennessee Law
- Marijuana Citations, Jail Time & Penalties
- Possession Of Drug Paraphernalia Citation
- Getting A TN Marijuana Citation | The Process
- Can I Be Arrested For Simple Possession Of Weed?
- Booking: “What Happens After Being Issued A Marijuana Citation?”
- Expunging TN Marijuana Citations
- TN Marijuana Citations & County Enforcement
- How Long Is Probation For TN Simple Possession Charges?
- Marijuana Citation While On Probation
- Simple Possession/Exchange: Class E Felony In TN
- Possession Citations & Collateral Consequences
What Is A Marijuana Citation In TN?
A marijuana citation is a ticket for Simple Possession or Casual Exchange (See TN Law) of marijuana. If you are issued a marijuana citation, you are charged with a Class A Misdemeanor criminal offense. (Source: T.C.A. § 39-17-418)
Amount: Less than a half-ounce (14.175 grams)
Possessing or casually exchanging any amount of weed under 14.175 grams is considered simple possession or casual exchange in Tennessee. This is a misdemeanor criminal offense. (View TN Penalties For 1st-3rd Offenses)
Multiple citations at once:
The same charge applies for possession of paraphernalia citations. Say you are caught in possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. You would be issued two citations.
Receiving two citations means you are charged with two Class A Misdemeanors. Whether you were issued a citation or you were arrested, the charge is the same.
Can I Be Given A Citation For Fake Or Synthetic Weed (Spice, K2)?
Yes, but it can be tricky. While you can get a citation or arrested for synthetic weed, a criminal lawyer may be able to get the charges dropped. Items like Spice and K2 are generally considered synthetic equivalents of marijuana.
In Tennessee, marijuana, derivatives of marijuana containing TCH, and synthetic equivalents are all controlled substances classified as Schedule VI drugs.
The Tennessee law that defines synthetic equivalents of marijuana is intentionally broad (See: T.C.A. 39-17-415). The broadness is meant to make up for the fact that the chemical compounds in synthetic marijuana can change rapidly.
Simple Possession Charge Tennessee Law
Tennessee law defines simple possession or casual exchange as a criminal “offense for a person to knowingly possess or casually exchange a controlled substance unless the substance was obtained…” via valid prescription. [See: T.C.A. § 39-17-418 Simple Possession Or Casual Exchange (Lexis Advance through the 2018 Regular Session)]
The law also covers additional drugs (in smaller amounts) such as cocaine and even heroin (see more about this). While these drugs are not the main topic of this article, the same penalties and processes we discuss apply to them.
What does the term “casual exchange” mean?
The term “casual exchange” means the “spontaneous passing of a small amount of an illegal drug, regardless whether money is received for the exchange of the illegal drug.”
It should be noted that you may be charged with intent to distribute if you are also found in possession of large amounts of cash, scales, or multiple bags.
Marijuana Citations, Jail Time & Penalties
Marijuana citations are a Class A Misdemeanor and any conviction will carry mandatory fines and potential jail time. Below is a list of TN sentencing guidelines broken down by number of previous citation offenses.
Before you read it, keep in mind that what you can get is almost never as bad as what you do get. (Skip to “What To Expect In Court” for the full list of possible outcomes.)
Penalty For A 1st Offense Possession Or Exchange Charge?
- Maximum jail time for a 1st conviction on a misdemeanor weed possession charge is 11 months and 29 days.
- Maximum fine is $2,500.
- Minimum fine is $250 for your first possession citation.
Penalty For A 2nd Offense Possession Or Exchange Charge?
- Maximum jail time for a 2nd conviction for misdemeanor weed possession is still 11 months and 29 days.
- Maximum fine is $2,500.
- Minimum fine is $500 if you have one (1) prior conviction.
Penalty For A 3rd Offense Possession Or Exchange Charge?
- Maximum jail time for a 3rd conviction for misdemeanor weed possession is still 11 months and 29 days.
- Maximum fine is also $2,500.
- Minimum fine is $1,000 if you have two (2) prior convictions.
Will a marijuana citation go on your criminal record?
If convicted, yes, it will be on your criminal record. The conviction will remain on your criminal record permanently unless it’s expunged.
*NOTE* Some sources on the internet will tell you that your 3rd citation for simple possession or casual exchange will be charged as a Class E Felony instead of a Class A Misdemeanor; these sources are INCORRECT.
But… Tennessee does have two exceptions that would graduate a Class A Misdemeanor simple possession or casual exchange charge to a Class E Felony. (See that section)
Possession Of Drug Paraphernalia Citation
Of course, the reality is that if you are charged in possession of marijuana, you are often in possession of another illegal item: paraphernalia.
You can be charged with possession of paraphernalia for having any item used for the purpose of introducing a controlled substance into the body. [Source: T.C.A. § 39-17-425 (Lexis Advance through the 2018 Regular Session)].
That is a separate, additional Class A Misdemeanor which carries its own range of punishment identical to that for simple possession of weed.
If you are charged with both simple possession or casual exchange for weed and possession of paraphernalia, you could be convicted of both.
Practically speaking, just about any hired attorney should be able to get at least one charge dismissed.
If you are somehow convicted of both, the two sentences – each for 11 months and 29 days – would most likely be served at the same time (concurrent) instead of back to back (consecutive).
There are many variables in the law on sentencing that could cause one outcome or another. Be sure to consult an attorney on your options.
Getting A TN Marijuana Citation | The Process
Interacting With Police Officers (Buzzkill Ninjas)
Like buzzkill ninjas, police officers are constantly using all their senses to detect marijuana.
The distinct smell of weed will justify an officer’s search of your person if you are on foot and the officer can attribute the smell to you.
A traffic stop for something as minor as failing to signal a lane change can turn into a full search of your vehicle without your consent if the officer smells weed from inside the vehicle.
Consider the following statements:
- “I smelled a distinctive odor that, based on my experience, I knew to be marijuana.”
- “I saw what appeared to be a green leafy substance consistent with marijuana.”
These pre-packaged phrases are used every day by police officers during their testimony to support charges for weed possession.
Recording The Police
Currently, Metro Nashville Police Department does not equip most officers with body cameras, but it is on the horizon.
For now, filming an encounter with police may be helpful, but it can also cut against you if you admit to anything or behave in a way that would support taking you to jail right then (see reasons).
The potential upside to having a recording of the police is your attorney will be able to literally see your interaction and keep the officer honest in his or her retelling of it.
The potential downside is that you risk making an officer angry. Additionally, you may not be able to use the recording because you did something stupid or aggressive.
Speaking To Police
Officers know what to say and what to look for, and so should you. The number-one recommendation is to never give the police consent to search your property or your person, even if you are not breaking any laws.
- You may be tempted to explain yourself. Don’t.
- The officer may tell you that he won’t charge you with additional crimes if you answer his questions. This is a tactic, and usually a dishonest one. Be careful.
- If you’re asked the standard “Where are you headed?” kind of questions, reply with very general answers. You have no obligation to tell the officer. That’s your business.
- If you find yourself being interrogated, ask if you are free to go. If you are not, you might want to say something like this: “I’d like to discuss this with my lawyer before answering any questions.”
Once the officer has discovered weed in your possession, you will be in the best position if you follow these simple rules:
- Identify yourself and provide your state-issued identification;
- Remain respectful; but
- Do not answer any questions; and
- Ask to speak with a lawyer.
Not answering questions will seem odd and awkward. Police officers count on this and often act very friendly to encourage cooperation. Do not fall victim to this tactic.
Can I Be Arrested For Simple Possession Of Weed?
Yes. In some cases you may be arrested instead of being issued a citation. Here’s a list of reasons this might happen.
You may be arrested if you:
- Require immediate medical care;
- Give the impression you will continue to be in possession after being cited;
- Do not provide satisfactory ID;
- Give the impression that you will not show up to court (by having a Failure to Appear charge on your record, for example);
- Are so intoxicated you pose a danger to yourself or others;
- Refuse to sign the citation; OR
- Have an outstanding warrant.
Booking: “What Happens After Being Issued A Marijuana Citation?”
You will need to “book” yourself and get the court process started. Booking is what happens when you turn yourself in at the sheriff’s department.
If your citation is outside Davidson County, the citation issued to you will have your:
- Booking/court date;
- Time of hearing; and
- Booking location.
With that information, you should be able to use the Davidson County process we have outlined below as a reference for your specific county.
How To Book Yourself For A Weed Citation In Davidson County:
You need to report to the Justice A. A. Birch Building located in downtown Nashville at 408 2nd Avenue North. This will be noted above your signature in the “RESPONSIBILITIES” section of your citation ticket.
You will enter the first floor of the building and go through metal detectors. The fewer random metal items you have on your person, the quicker you will get through.
To the right of your signature on your citation ticket, one of two times will be checked.
- BETWEEN 7:00 AM AND 9:00 AM
- BETWEEN 9:00 AM AND 11:00 AM
The courthouse opens at 7 a.m. Booking will get very busy, so arrive no later than that if you’re in that first group.
For the second group, we always advise our clients to show up at 7 a.m. to be on the safe side. Definitely, do not show up a second after 9 a.m.
Once you are in the building, go down the hallway on the left side of the lobby, and you will find the booking office to be the first door on your right.
In the booking office a sheriff’s deputy will begin the booking process. The process consists of:
- Giving your information (i.e., address-related information, not questions related to drug charge);
- Getting fingerprinted; and
- Taking a mugshot.
You will not be taken into custody or to jail.
Hurry up and wait:
Wait outside in the hallway for court to begin in Courtroom 1A or 1B, if you finish the booking process before the courtroom opens.
Once you’re in the courtroom, wait for your name to be called.
Failure To Book Yourself On Time In Tennessee
If you do not show up on your booking date, you will be charged with an additional misdemeanor called Failure to Appear.
A warrant will issue for your arrest. You will then be arrested at a place and time that you do not get to choose. Do not let this happen.
If you already missed your booking date, you seriously need to hire an attorney.
If you cannot afford one, report and book yourself on the original simple possession or casual exchange charge and the failure to appear charge as soon as possible. Do not avoid the process. It will only get worse for you.
“Okay, I booked on time. Now what?”
Expunging TN Marijuana Citations
If you do plea, under diversion, there is still a good chance you will be able to get the charge expunged from your criminal record.
Even with a criminal record, it is possible to expunge the charge. The plea just needs to be structured right.
The main factor to determine eligibility for expungement is if you have previously pled under “Judicial Diversion.”
However, there are other factors specific to an individual’s criminal history and current case that need evaluation before determining if eligible.
What To Expect In TN Court For Simple Possession Charges
The Judge will call the docket around 9:00 a.m. When your name is called, you will be asked whether you have an attorney or plan to get one.
The DA might also call your name to see if you would like to negotiate a plea deal on your own or with a lawyer.
- If you do have a defense attorney for the marijuana citation, that attorney should answer for you.
- If you do not have a defense attorney, but plan to hire one, you will be given a new court date, which is usually at least 30 days away.
- You will not be offered another opportunity to hire an attorney if you fail to get one before your new court date.
- You are entitled to speak with the Assistant District Attorney yourself, but keep in mind that even attorneys hire an attorney. There’s a good reason for that.
- The vast majority of self-represented individuals that try to negotiate with a DA fail completely or get a sub-par plea deal that’s offered to everyone.
What Can Happen In Citation Court: Resolutions
As stated earlier, the maximum jail time for a Class A Misdemeanor drug citation conviction is 11 months and 29 days. Keep in mind, you probably wouldn’t get the max time even if you defend yourself. Though, as with most things, you tend to get what you pay for.
Below is a list of all possible resolutions for misdemeanor drug citation cases, including jail time.
If your defense attorney can identify proof problems for the State or any violations of your constitutional rights, the case can be dismissed immediately or on appeal.
- Win At Trial:
There are countless ways to win in a trial. The catch is that there’s always a risk. If you can stay out of jail, keep the charge off your record, or get it dismissed without risking a year of your life, why take it?
- Continuance To Take A Drug Education Class:
They are offered regularly in Davidson County and can help convince the DA to get drug citation(s) dismissed altogether. Classes are $50 and last four hours.
- Pre-Trial Diversion / Under Advisement Plea:
A conditional plea that involves resetting your case while you complete some agreed-upon drug class, probation, or other obligation. Once you have completed the obligation and provide the court with proof, your case will be dismissed.
- Judicial Diversion:
An option you have to qualify for that is basically probation and immediate expungement from your record if you complete with no violations. You can only do this once, and the TBI has to certify your eligibility.
The State can “retire” the case for a certain period of time during which you have to stay out of trouble. The charge would be dismissed at the end of retirement if you received no new charges during that time.
As stated earlier, fines range from $250 for your first conviction to $1,000 for your third (in addition to court costs).
- Conviction And/Or Jail Time:
The maximum jail time is 11 months and 29 days. Any amount of jail time under that maximum may be ordered by the court.
Two or more resolutions may be combined with one another.
Neither a misdemeanor citation nor felony arrest for weed charges has to result in conviction or any kind of tough penalty. No criminal history gives you the most options.
But… there are countless ways to get what you want, even with a prior conviction.
TN Marijuana Citations & County Enforcement
In 2017 in Davidson County, the most criminal cases other than for probation violation were for drugs.
In less-populated Williamson County, by comparison, drugs were the third most often filed criminal case.
Statewide, there are more arrests for possession of weed than almost all other drugs combined. Each year numbers are going UP.
Enforcement & Punishment Vary By County
The penalties a prosecutor (DA) will seek for the possession or exchange of weed vary by district/county.
For example, you are more likely to face higher fines, jail time, and probation time in Rutherford, Williamson, Sumner, or Robertson Counties than in Davidson County.
How Long Is Probation For TN Simple Possession Charges?
The maximum probation time for a single simple possession or casual exchange charge is 11 / 29 (11 months and 29 days). Generally speaking, getting the maximum is very unlikely for your first offense. Even without a lawyer, the maximum is rarely given on the first marijuana citation offense.
For a second citation offense or multiple charges, probation time can vary dramatically.
Probation time varies depending on:
- Your case’s details (especially the police officer’s testimony);
- Criminal record;
- Prosecuting DA;
- Judge; and, most importantly,
- Your defense lawyer.
What if it’s your first time going to court for simple possession or exchange?
You’ll probably be looking at a diversion plea based on completion of a drug class, community service, or 6 months probation.
In addition, you’ll need to pay court costs, mandatory fines, and any fees associated with classes and/or probation. That’s just a guess from what we’ve seen happen to people without an attorney fighting for them.
If you did not hire an attorney, you’re really at the mercy of the particular prosecuting DA assigned to your case and the Judge.
If you’ve been to court for possessing or selling weed before, the prosecuting DA usually wants the maximum probation time – especially if you have a prior conviction.
For a Class A Misdemeanor, the maximum probation time is 11 / 29 (11 months and 29 days). Again, this is just what we typically see happen to people without an attorney.
Marijuana Citation While On Probation
If you are on probation, a citation for possession of marijuana will likely result in a Violation of Probation warrant being filed by your Probation Officer.
The chances of being violated by your probation officer for possessing marijuana are higher outside the metro areas but, even in Nashville, it does happen.
As stated in section “TN Marijuana Citations & County Enforcement,” the most common charge filed in Davidson County last year was violation of probation.
Violation of probation for marijuana citation in TN
The law in Tennessee authorizes the violation of a person’s probation JUST FOR BEING CHARGED with another crime — being convicted is not necessary.
Violations of probations largely depend on the attitude of your Probation Officer and your relationship with them.
If you receive a marijuana citation or drug citation of any kind while on probation, your Probation Officer needs to be informed.
More often than not, defense attorneys can talk your Probation Officer into working with you instead of against you. Sometimes they can be talked out of filing a Violation of Probation warrant altogether. Other times they’ll wait to see what happens in court.
If you don’t have an attorney, you must still let your Probation Officer know.
Simple Possession/Exchange: Class E Felony In TN
As stated in the section “Tennessee Marijuana Citation Law,” T.C.A. § 39-17-418 also regulates small amounts of many controlled substances such as cocaine or heroin.
Yes, police do issue simple possession or casual exchange citations for cocaine and heroin if the amount is under 0.5 grams.
With that said, here are the two exceptions that would upgrade a simple possession or casual exchange misdemeanor to a Class E Felony:
- There is a casual exchange of marijuana to a minor from an adult who is at least two years older than the minor, and who knows that the person is a minor.
- If you have two prior citation convictions and the “current violation involves the Schedule I drug classified as heroin.” This applies to both simple possession and casual exchange. The charge will only increase if heroin is involved.
Possession Citations & Collateral Consequences
A citation for possession of weed could negatively impact almost any other legal proceeding in which you are involved.
Because these situations vary depending on the facts and make going into depth difficult, I will just briefly use some common examples:
The person fighting you for custody of your child will make the argument you are an unfit parent if their attorney learns you were in possession of weed.
In a business dispute, the other side will use a weed citation against you to suggest you are not a credible person.
Personal Injury Cases
If you’re in a lawsuit because you were injured, the attorney for the person who injured you will try to tell the jury about your weed citation. Juries tend to award less money to someone they think uses drugs.
Further, if you have a job, your employer may not want someone with a weed possession charge on his or her staff, so the citation could get you fired. If you already didn’t have a job, having a pending possession charge definitely makes getting one harder.
In these situations, you do not have to be your own.