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News, Politics

Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans: Is It for Real or Just Another Act?

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

May 1, 2022 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans: Is It for Real or Just Another Act?

Will the call for cannabis legalization in Tennessee fall upon deaf ears and closed minds again like it has so many times in the past? SB2598/HB1968 is a bill in the Volunteer State of Tennessee that is being called the “Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act.” If the bill passes the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee in the state legislature on Tuesday, May 5, history would be made.

The American South is a bit behind the times when it comes to positive cannabis reform. Many of the southern states still hold on to outdated laws regarding cannabis. The prohibition of cannabis was built upon a foundation of misinformation and racism. For far too long, cannabis has been used as a tool for authorities to harass and incarcerate citizens of the great state of Tennessee.

According to an ACLU report, “African-Americans are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates.” In the state of Tennessee, bias and racial profiling place African Americans run a 3.2% higher likelihood of being arrested for cannabis than Caucasians. The state of Tennessee isn’t exactly friendly to cannabis. They are missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and a thriving tourist economy because of closed eyes, ears, and minds.

Tennessee Ranks High, but Not in a Good Way

Tennessee is No. 7 when it comes to states with the highest arrest rates for cannabis possession. The arrest rate of African-Americans in Tennessee for cannabis possession holds th 13th spot in the nation, with an estimated 820 arrests of African-Americans per 100,000 versus 255 Caucasians per 100,000.

The report issued by the ACLU states, “For decades, marijuana laws have been used to criminalize black and brown people, waste taxpayer money, and fuel the mass incarceration crisis.” It would seem that Tennessee has a passion for locking folks up. I didn’t think that’s what they meant by “Tennessee time.”

The Vera Institute of Justice lists Tennessee as the second-highest of six nearby states when it comes to incarceration levels in state prisons and local jails. Travel back in time to 1983, and you would find an estimated 14,000 individuals detained in state institutions. Fast forward to 2015, and that number jumps up to 48,000. The Vera Institute of Justice says, “In Tennessee, Blacks make up 18% of the population but 36% of the population of people in jail and 42% of the prison population.” It’s estimated that the African-American incarceration rate in Tennessee has increased by 136% since 1978.

When we look at a surrounding seven-state region that includes Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky, we see a disturbing pattern. According to the Vera Institute, “Tennessee has the second-highest rate of jail admissions and the third-highest prison incarceration rate per 100 thousand population.”

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The Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act, if passed into law, would drastically shape the future of Tennessee. It would allow adults in the state to possess up to 60 grams of flower or 15 grams of cannabis concentrates. Adults would be allowed to transfer those amounts between each other. The bill would also make way for citizens in the state of Tennessee to cultivate up to 12 cannabis plants on their own property as long as certain safety provisions were adhered to. SB2598/HB1968 would also allow parents or legal guardians to give medical cannabis to minor children with medical conditions.

Good Times Could Be Coming for Tennessee Cannabis Consumers

It is definitely not full-on legalization, but it is absolutely a step in the right direction. Let’s just hope lawmakers don’t stumble trying to take this step like they have so many times in the past. The state of Tennessee could really use the additional revenue that could be created by cannabis. Cannabis products sold in the state of Tennessee would find they would be subject to local and state taxes plus a marijuana tax of 15%.

50% of the tax dollars produced would be allocated toward the administration and enforcement of the new cannabis law. 20% of taxes collected would go to a fund supporting officers injured in the line of duty and families of fallen officers. 20% would go towards a state employee legal pension reserve, 5% to educating children about the risks of cannabis, and 5% to administrative costs.

These taxes are definitely allocated in a way that shows that elected representatives in the state of Tennessee are trying to fix holes they have dug in the financial structure of the state’s economy. Filling these holes with an influx of tax revenue from cannabis sales could be just the thing they need.

Tennessee is an absolutely beautiful state. Should they legalize cannabis, tourism in the state would increase substantially. People from across the country and around the world would make it even more of a point to visit the Great Smoky Mountains. The day that Tennessee legalizes cannabis, the Smoky Mountains will be the smokiest they’ve ever been.

Should the Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act pass and become law, employers will reserve the right to consider cannabis consumption for job applicants. The use of cannabis would also be banned from public places, watercraft, aircraft, and vehicles. Let’s hope the elected representatives in the state of Tennessee listen to the will of the people and make SB2598/HB1968 a reality.

Should Tennessee pass this bill into law, they could help pave a path to positive cannabis reform in states still struggling with letting go of the past. States like South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Alabama, and Kentucky. After the immense success seen in states with legal cannabis programs, it’s about time that the rest caught up.

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