Changing perception of marijuana affecting criminal, family law in Tennessee

The majority of people in the U.S. now favor making medical marijuana legal, according to recent survey by CNN. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslem recently signed into law a bill that allows cannabis oil to be used for research in treatment of epilepsy patients. And the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington has meant both an increased presence of marijuana in Tennessee and a lower cost for the drug.

But marijuana is still illegal under both federal and state law in Tennessee. While marijuana use for medicinal purposes can combat pain and reduce a patient's dependence on opioids, its use in the state can lead to serious criminal charges and harm a parent in divorce and custody matters.

Criminal possession and distribution of marijuana

Police in Tennessee are still aggressively prosecuting marijuana crimes. For example, according to one Tennessee police chief, a hash oil made from marijuana with a high THC content has been making its way through the state and has law enforcement officials concerned. "Dabs," "Honey oil" or "earwax marijuana," as it is known, is extracted using butane gas and contains 80 to 90 percent THC. Traditional marijuana is about 25 percent THC. Police recently discovered dabs at the Bonnaroo Music Festival, which led to several arrests. Police anticipate more busts in the near future.

It is not just highly potent variations of marijuana that bring law enforcement scrutiny. Possession of a small amount of marijuana (1/2 oz or less) is a misdemeanor in Tennessee. A misdemeanor marijuana charge can lead to potential jail time and significant fines. A third marijuana possession charge, even if only for a small amount, is a felony. Possession of more than ½ oz. of marijuana is also a felony.

Family law and child endangerment

Aside for the criminal aspects of marijuana possession, the recreational use of the drug can lead to family law consequences. The abuse of a drug, even for legal drugs such as prescription pain medications, can lead to a parent being unable to see his or her child. In a divorce with minor children involved, for example, custody is decided according to "the best interests of the child." This broad standard could allow a judge to determine that the presence of marijuana in the home is a reason to deny a parent custody of a child.

Tennessee also has very stringent child protection laws. Allegations of neglect of a child can lead to involvement by Tennessee Department of Children's Services. If the state finds that a child may be in danger, they will remove that child from the home. The presence of marijuana in the home, or even a history of use, can mean increased scrutiny by state officials. Tennessee also recently passed a law that criminalizes drug use while pregnant if the mother's use of drugs leads to addiction in an infant.

An attorney can help

While the law on marijuana is rapidly changing, its use can still bring a variety of significant punishments in Tennessee. Whether facing criminal charges or involved in a family law dispute, an attorney can help a Tennessee resident protect his or her rights in court.