Marijuana has not yet been legalized in Tennessee or Georgia. In fact, tens of thousands of people are arrested each year in these states for possession of marijuana. Generally, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, and will result in a sentence of probation or imprisonment for less than one year. But what happens if you were prescribed medical marijuana in another state and travel to Tennessee or Georgia? Can you still be arrested for possessing marijuana if you hold a valid medical marijuana card?
Let’s begin unpacking this question by looking at the laws governing medical marijuana in Tennessee and Georgia.
Medical marijuana in Georgia is a complicated affair. Georgia’s General Assembly passed the Georgia’s Hope Act in 2019, which authorized the Georgia Access to Medical Marijuana Commission to oversee licensing and dispensing of low-THC oil cultivated, produced, and manufactured in-state (OCGA §16-12-191). Under this law, certain qualified patients and/or their caregiver(s) are legally allowed to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of marijuana oil containing 5% THC or less. In 2021, the act was expanded through an amendment to also cover transdermal patches, capsules, tinctures, and lotions. Patients must apply for a Low THC Oil Card through their physician, but not all illnesses make a patient eligible for a card. Physicians are authorized to place patients on Georgia’s Department of Public Health’s Low THC Oil Registry if they suffer from any of a list of approved illnesses, including (but not limited to) terminal cancer, Crohn’s disease, severe Alzeihmer’s, and PTSD.
The primary purpose of the Georgia’s Hope Act is to protect patients and their caregivers from being arrested for possessing marijuana oil. It does not legalize marijuana, nor does it allow qualified patients to possess THC products in raw flower form. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the law does not enable physicians to prescribe marijuana to their patients. Low THC Oil Card carriers must instead buy their THC from businesses licensed by the Georgia Access to Medical Marijuana Commission.
The Georgia’s Hope Act also applies to patients and their caregivers who carry a medical marijuana registration card from another state, provided that their home state’s law “allows the same possession of low THC oil as provided by” Georgia law (OCGA §16-12-191). Once a patient has resided in Georgia for 45 days or more, however, their out of state registration is no longer valid in Georgia and they must seek a Low THC Oil Card locally. Although Georgia does engage in some reciprocity with other states, it is still illegal for non-Georgians with medical marijuana licenses from their home state to bring THC products containing greater than 5% THC into the state of Georgia. Under Georgia’s criminal law, individuals in possession of THC products containing greater than 5% THC can be charged with possession of marijuana, whether as a misdemeanor (possession of less than one ounce) or a felony (possession of greater than one ounce).
If Georgia’s medical marijuana laws seem restrictive, then Tennessee’s are prohibitive. Tennessee has no comprehensive medical cannabis program, and does not participate in reciprocity with states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana. This means that no person, whether they live in Tennessee or are just visiting the state, will be legally permitted to possess medical marijuana in the state of Tennessee.
Perhaps the closest Tennessee has gotten to legalizing a form of marijuana was the decriminalization of what the Tennessee government describes as “hemp” – cannabis containing 0.3% THC or less – and authorization to the Department of Agriculture to license hemp farmers. Hemp products are now widely available in Tennessee. Furthermore, patients or caregivers to patients diagnosed with certain illnesses may possess oil containing 0.9% THC or less, as long as they can prove this oil was legally purchased out of state (SB 0280). Patients suffering from intractable seizures, MS, HIV/AIDS, and several other diseases may qualify. However, physicians in the Volunteer State are still not able to prescribe their patients medical marijuana, nor can patients prescribed medical marijuana out of state bring marijuana containing greater than 0.9% THC to Tennessee. This means a cancer patient holding a Low THC Oil Card from Georgia cannot legally travel to Tennessee with their low THC oil if it contains more than 0.9% THC. While this does seem disheartening, Tennessee’s 2021 SB 118 established a commission to study medical marijuana. A majority of Tennesseans are in favor of medical marijuana being legalized, so changes in Tennessee's medical marijuana legislation are likely to come in the near future.
In short, medical marijuana has not been legalized in Tennessee or Georgia. Medical practitioners in both states are still prohibited from prescribing marijuana as a medicinal drug. While Georgia has decriminalized low THC and established a means for patients to prove they are legally allowed to be in possession of therapeutic marijuana, Tennessee has yet to establish a registration process for individuals to possess marijuana medically. Tennessee also does not have a reciprocity program for out-of-state patients visiting Tennessee. So, if you’ve been prescribed medical marijuana in Alabama, leave it at home when you travel to Nashville for a concert or to see the mountains in Gatlinburg. Depending on the percentage of THC in your prescription, you may or may not be able to bring your medicine along with you to Georgia. No matter what, keep your medical marijuana registration card on your person in case of a medical emergency or encounter with law enforcement.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for possession of marijuana or driving while under the influence of marijuana in Tennessee or Georgia, reach out to Best & Brock PLLC to schedule a free consultation with one of our criminal defense attorneys. Our experience in the court systems of Tennessee and Georgia will help you defend your rights and your future.