Possession of a Controlled Substance in Tennessee
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All states regulate the possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), though each differs in its exact definition of CDS and the penalties for illegal possession. Tennessee classifies not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as CDS, but also the compounds used to manufacture them.
This article discusses the illegal possession of CDS for personal use only. Illegally making or selling CDS carries different penalties. For more information on illegal CDS manufacture and sale, see Sale of Controlled Substances in Tennessee.
Also, while marijuana is considered a CDS, this article does not cover Tennessee’s marijuana possession and sale laws. To learn more about that topic, see Tennessee Marijuana Laws.
How Tennessee Classifies CDS
Tennessee divides CDS into seven “Schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V, decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses. Schedule VI includes marijuana and cannabis extracts (and is not covered in this article), and Schedule VII includes Butyl nitrite and its isomers.
If you’ve been arrested for illegal CDS possession, you’ll need to consult the Tennessee Code that lists precisely which drugs fit into each group. Go to the statute (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-406, -408, -410, -412, -414, & -416) and find the substance you're charged with possessing -- it will be listed under one of the seven schedules. (To find these statutes using the above link, choose Title 39, Chapter 17, Part 4.)
Penalties for Possessing CDS
It is illegal in Tennessee to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. First and second convictions are a class A misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both. Third and subsequent convictions are class E felonies, and incur a fine of up to $3,000, at least one year (and up to six years) in prison, or both.
In addition to the applicable fines and terms of imprisonment, offenders are required to attend a drug offender school, perform community service work at a drug or alcohol rehabilitation or treatment center, or both. The defendant will have to pay for the cost of the school, unless the judge deems the defendant an indigent and unable to pay. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-418.)
Drug Free Zones
In addition to the fine and prison time described above for third and subsequent possession offenses, the defendant will be fined an additional $10,000 if the offense was committed in a drug-free zone. Drug free zones include areas on or within 1,000 feet of a school, library, park, or recreational area. (Tenn. Code Ann. §39-17-432.)
Talk to an Attorney
CDS possession convictions can incur harsh fines and long periods of incarceration. A local lawyer who practices CDS defense will review the facts of your case, explain your options, and advise you of the possible consequences.