Drug Laws in Tennessee

Have you recently been charged with a crime related to drugs – whether it be drug use, sale, or possession? If so, the defense attorneys at the Chattanooga law firm of Cavett, Abbott & Weiss may be able to help you.

It can be a difficult and stressful time, but finding a drug lawyer who understands and has experience dealing with cases like yours can go a long way towards navigating through the aftermath.

Of course, education about the drug laws in Tennessee may be able to help even more. Understanding Tennessee’s drug laws might be able to help you get a better grip on your charges, or even avoid more charges in the future.

In some cases, your drug charges may be ticketed as citations, though they still require an appearance in court and could lead to criminal charges on your record.

Here, we’ll take a look at a basic overview of the drug laws in Tennessee so that you can become better informed about the legal ramifications of drugs to help with your case and ultimately less likely to need the services of a criminal defense attorney.

Should you need a defense attorney, however, don’t panic. Contact Cavett, Abbott & Weiss to schedule a consultation.


Like most states, Tennessee utilizes the federal government’s guidelines when it comes to classifying drugs.

The classifications are designed on a scale from low to high, with the “most dangerous” drugs earning the Schedule 1 distinction, Schedule II featuring drugs that are dangerous but may have legitimate medical uses, and so on.

Here’s a breakdown of the Tennessee Drug Classifications and what they may include:

  • Schedule I: The most high-risk drugs that can lead to abuse and addiction with no legitimate or accepted medical purpose. Can include LSD (acid), heroin, ecstasy (other forms include MDMA and “Molly”), peyote, and psychedelic mushrooms.
  • Schedule II: Generally includes substances that have a high risk of abuse and addiction but also may have accepted medical purposes. These can include prescription drugs, opiates and opioids, narcotics, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamines, and amphetamines.
  • Schedule III: Generally considered less risky and dangerous but still have a moderate risk of abuse or addiction. In Tennessee, these drugs may include anabolic steroids, testosterone, ketamine, and some depressants.
  • Schedule IV: May include some more prescription medications and drugs that have legitimate medical applications, such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and other sedative medications.
  • Schedule V: Less risky substances which have a lower chance of dependency or abuse, which can include medications like Tylenol with codeine.
  • Schedule VI: Includes one of the more common drugs, marijuana, which has a lower risk of physical dependency or addiction when compared to other drugs.
  • Schedule VII: The lowest classification in Tennessee, which includes things like butyl nitrate, a nitrous acid sometimes used as a recreational inhalant (liquid rush, locker room rush, poppers, etc.).

Law enforcement in Tennessee has a reputation for being strict when it comes to drug use, possession, and distribution – even for first-time offenders or recreational users.

Penalties for violating Tennessee’s drug codes can include suspension of your driver’s license, forfeiture of property, jail time, prison time, fines, community service, probation, or a combination of any of the above.

For offenses involving Schedule I or Schedule II substances, the punishment may be more severe. For first-time possession or purchase charges, the punishment may carry jail time from between two and 15 years. Second time offenses can elevate the sentence to between five and 30 years.

Selling or intent to distribute charges for Schedule I or Schedule II substances increases the punishment even further, carrying a potential sentence of five to 30 years for first time offenses and increasing to 10-40 years or, in some cases, life in prison for multiple offenses.


As outlined by Discovery Place, Tennessee classifies its drug laws into five different charges:

  • Simple possession, casual exchange: The lowest drug offense in the state, often charged if you did not have enough of a substance to be charged with felony possession or sale. Offenders often face Class A misdemeanor penalties, which may include up to one-year in jail and fines up to $2,500.
  • Possession with intent: If an officer determines you have a certain amount of a drug which appears to be for more than personal use, you may be charged with this. In Tennessee, intent to distribute can carry felony charges.
  • Sale of a controlled substance: Generally charged when an officer has directly witnessed a drug sale. Any sale, no matter the amount, of a controlled substance is charged as a felony.
  • Drug trafficking and conspiracy: Often charged to people suspected of engaging in the production, distribution, transportation or sale of controlled or illegal substances. The federal government has determined a set of mandatory minimum penalties, which means Tennessee state judges are not allowed to hand out penalties that are less than those established. Can include lengthy prison sentences, probation, and fines.
  • Drug manufacturing: Producing or making a substance like methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and in some cases marijuana, can carry a drug manufacturing charge which may result in a prison sentence or more.


Unlike in states like Colorado and Washington, which have legalized recreational marijuana to certain extents, Tennessee still enforces strict marijuana laws.

Here, possession of up to ½ ounce of marijuana qualifies as a misdemeanor charge, which may still carry fines and jail time.

Upwards of ½ an ounce can lead to felony charges which may carry from one to six years of jail time or more, depending on the amount of marijuana and determination of intent (possession, sale, cultivation, or other).

The possession of drug paraphernalia related to marijuana can also be a misdemeanor charge, punishable with a jail sentence or hefty fines.


Now that you have a better understanding of the drug laws in Tennessee and the legal ramifications from drug-related charges, let’s find out more about how the law firm at Cavett, Abbott & Weiss can help.

With over 60 years of combined experience, our criminal defense attorneys can help you understand and protect your rights from start to finish, ensure you’re being treated fairly by those outside the legal community (including by your employer), and work with you and your family to (hopefully) make things less traumatic if jail time is inevitable.

Our drug lawyers put their clients first and will work with the court to determine the best course of action for your case, which may include finding access to the best treatment program available.

Schedule your consultation with Cavett, Abbott & Weiss today so you can take the first step toward leaving your mistakes behind and learn more about our mission to providing you with the best legal counsel.

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