Criminal Defense Attorney Nashville & Litigation Attorney | SBL

Marijuana Citation TN Law | A Legal Guide For All Simple Possession Or Casual Exchange Charges

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

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.


Supplemental Topics

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 2 Class A Misdemeanors. Whether you were issued a citation or you were arrested, the charge is the same.



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.

However, there are ways to your criminal defense lawyer to exploit that broadness in your favor.


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 of an illegal drug, regardless whether money is received for the exchanged 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 $2500.
  • Minimum fine $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 $2500.
  • Minimum fine is $500 if you have a 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 $2500.
  • 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 2 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

(Skip to Booking if this already occurred)

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 on you.

A traffic stop for something as minor as failure 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 everyday 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 into the sheriff’s department.

If you’re 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.


Booking Office:

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 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 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.

(Skip to “court expectations”) 

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.

“Ok, 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 & 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.

  • Dismissal:
    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 can help convince the DA to get drug citation(s) dismissed altogether. Classes are $50 and last 4 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.
  • Retirement:
    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.
  • Fines:
    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.
  • Combination:
    Two or more resolutions may be combined with one another.

Neither a misdemeanor citation or 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

Last year (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 & 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;
  • County;
  • 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 & 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 in highly likely cause a Violation of Probation warrant to be filed by your Probation Officer.

The chances of being violated by your PO for possessing marijuana is 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:

  1. There is a casual exchange of marijuana to a minor from an adult who is at least 2 years older than the minor, and who knows that the person is a minor.
  2. If you have 2 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:

Custody Disputes:

The person fighting you for custody of your child will make the argument you are unfit parent if their attorney learns you were in possession of weed.

Business Disputes

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 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.

These situations do not have to be your own.


Marijuana Citation: Common Questions


Differences Between A Citation & Charge?

Being Arrested: After being issued a citation ticket for simple possession or casual exchange, you will be free to go. However, the citation is a criminal charge. And you may face jail time or other penalties on your court date.

The only difference between a drug citation and a typical charge is that, for citations, you are not taken into custody at the time of the incident. Because you are not arrested for citations, you don’t have to pay bail.

Any drug citation is a criminal charge. The difference is in how police handle misdemeanor drug charges vs felony drug charges.



Misdemeanor Amount VS Felony Amount?

The Amount: Being caught with less than a half-ounce (or 14.175 grams) is a misdemeanor, which is likely to result in a marijuana possession citation.

Anything over 14.175 grams of marijuana, is a felony and it is mandatory for police to arrest you.

Exceptions To The Rule: There are certain circumstances you might be arrested instead of getting a citation ticket for selling or possessing weed in TN when under a half-ounce. (See Exceptions)


Can You Get Arrested For Having CBD In TN?

Despite the fact that CBD Hemp is legal, yes, you can be arrested. Technically, CBD is legal to possess across the US due to the 2018 Farm Bill. CBD Hemp and derivatives are also sold in Tennessee. However, the real problem is that officers cannot tell the difference between legal hemp and illegal marijuana without laboratory testing.


Marijuana Prescription Tennessee Law

Any drugs in your possession that were obtained via a legitimate and valid TN prescription are legal in Tennessee. There is currently one medical use case that is legal in TN. Tennessee allows the use of high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil for seizure patients.

All other recreation and medical uses for marijuana are both currently illegal in TN. The good news is that signs do point to TN adopting some more medical use cases – sooner rather than later.

Getting A Lawyer For Your Marijuana Citation

The amount of people I see that go to court and plead guilty without a lawyer is insane. I literally cringe every time I see it happen. 

Even if you can’t afford a lawyer, you can have the court appoint one for free

If you can afford to hire one, you 100% should – not 99%, 100%. You may be short on cash for a month or two, but it will cost you more in the long term. The government will squeeze it out of you with probation fees, fines, and other line items. In addition, any future violations will only get worse. 

In either case, there is NO reason you should go without getting a lawyer.    


 How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Lawyer For A Drug Citation?

While the the court will appoint one for free, many choose to hire a criminal defense lawyer instead of risking the unknown. The cost to hire a private lawyer for a citation varies based on many factors (see factors), but it should be a flat rate.

Flat Rates:

Most criminal defense lawyers will offer a flat rate price instead of charging you their hourly rate. A flat rate price means you pay exactly the quoted amount no matter how long the lawyer works on your case.

Nashville Area Price Range:

In Davidson and surrounding counties, you should expect to pay anywhere between $1,500 and $4,500 to hire a decent private lawyer for a citation. 

That’s a wide price range, but it covers most of the possible scenarios. For a any specific scenario, you should get a much narrower price range

For a first offence marijuana possession citation, the cost should be closer to the $1,500 mark. The below example should help estimate costs for subsequent offences and/or more complex circumstances. 

Example Scenario:

Say you got 3 quotes. The odds are, they’ll be within $1,000 of each other. i.e. Q1=$2,500, Q2=$3,500, Q3=$3,000. 

In the above scenario:  

If you got another quote that was much lower than the average ($3,000), it’s probably not as good a deal as you think. 

Conversely, when it is much higher than the average, it can be one of two scenarios. 

The first and most likely is that the lawyer is busy right now … supply and demand.  

The second is that they see something others do not. If it is the second, they should be able to explain exactly why their quote is higher. It’s up to you to decide if it’s legit. 

Factors Affecting A Lawyer’s Price:

The facts of your case, exact charge, and likelihood of trial are the first considerations. Aside from those, price varies based on several factors: 

Your Timeliness: Say you hire a lawyer a couple days before your court date. That lawyer has to get to know the facts of your case quickly. To do that, they either put off work on less urgent cases or work longer hours. So your price may go up depending on how busy the lawyer is at that particular moment it time. This is basic supply and demand.

County: The location matters because different courts are more efficient than others. For the same charge a lawyer can be in court for 1-2 hours in one county and 5-6 hours in another. It’s just the way the system works.

Skills: While there are really cheap lawyers available for hire, you get what you pay for. You’ll probably be equally served and better off financially having one appointed to you by the court than hiring the cheapest lawyer. 

Dedication: There are a lot of variables to consider, here. To keep it brief, I’ll say that some lawyers want to get your case settled and move on as quickly as possible. Others really advocate for you and do whatever it takes (legally) to get you the best possible outcome. 

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