Tennessee has alcohol and drug laws on the books that are meant to protect the public. Furthermore, the state has some laws that are a good deal stricter than the national average. As a result, there are definitely questions and concerns about the state’s drug laws, including:

  • What are the DUI laws and penalties?
  • Does the state have a zero tolerance policy?
  • Is medical or recreational cannabis legal?
  • What are the drug-related crimes and penalties?

If you’re asking yourself these questions, then read below to have your questions and concerns addressed.

DUI Laws

Driving under the influence (DUI) is illegal. Officially, it’s defined as:

  • Driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.08.
  • A BAC above 0.20 or above is considered extreme intoxication and it will result in more serious penalties.

Zero Tolerance Laws

There is a zero tolerance policy in the state. This means that any driver below the age of 21 can not have a BAC above 0.02. In other words, a minor can get a DUI even after consuming just one drink.

Is Marijuana Legal?

As of 2020, both medical and recreational cannabis remain illegal. In fact, it is one of only eight states in the country where this is still the case.

In May 2015, Senate Bill 280 made it legal to use medicinal products that are high in CBD. However, they still have to be purchased out of state.

In early 2020, Senate Bill 1849 was introduced. It would allow adults over 21 the legal right to possess half an ounce or less. It hasn’t passed yet, although some activists remain hopeful that the state will reverse its policy.

Drug and Alcohol-Related Crimes

There are five basic types of drug-related charges in the state: 

  • Simple possession or casual exchange – This charge is triggered when a defendant is found in possession of less than half an ounce of a drug. 
  • Possession with intent – This charge means that law enforcement believes you were meaning to sell the drugs. Over half an ounce of any drug and the possession of items like scales, bags, or large amounts of cash will result in this charge. 
  • Sale of a controlled substance – Any sale of any drug, regardless of amount, is a felony in the state. 
  • Drug trafficking and conspiracy – This is a serious crime that is subject to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines under federal law. As a result, in certain situations it can result in a life sentence. It is triggered when someone is suspected of producing, distributing, transporting, or selling drugs. 
  • Drug manufacturing – This charge can be triggered when a defendant grows, cultivates, extracts or processes a drug at any point during its manufacturing process.   

Additionally, let’s take a look at some alcohol-related crimes in the state:

  • Minor in possession of alcohol (MIP) – This is a Class A misdemeanor that is triggered if the minor buys, possesses, or consumes alcohol. This charge even applies if the minor only tries to buy alcohol or misrepresents their age!
  • Providing alcohol to a minor – It is also illegal to give alcohol to a minor. Doing so will result in being charged with this Class A misdemeanor.
  • Public intoxication – This charge applies if you are a danger to yourself, to others, or an annoyance in a public space.
  • Aggravated public intoxication – If the defendant continuously gets charged with public intoxication, then they may face more severe penalties.

Penalties for Drug or Alcohol Abuse in Tennessee

Being convicted of these various charges will result in penalties, including:

DUI Penalties

The state is especially strict for first-time DUI offenders: 

  • Mandatory minimum of 48 hours in jail.
  • Up to one year in jail.
  • License suspension.
  • Fines between $350 and $1,500.
  • DUI school.
  • Possible Ignition Interlock Device (IID).

However, if your BAC is above 0.20, then penalties will include:

  • Minimum of 45 days in jail.
  • Up to one year in jail.
  • Mandatory revocation of license.
  • Fines between $600 and $3,500.
  • Mandatory IID.

Zero Tolerance

The penalties for violating the Zero Tolerance laws include:

  • License being revoked for one year.
  • A $250 fine.
  • Potential community service.

Cannabis penalties

Remember that this drug is still fully illegal under state law. As a result, a first-time offense for possession of half an ounce or less results in:

  • Class A misdemeanor charge.
  • Up to one year in jail.
  • A fine ranging from $250 to $2,500.

A second-time offense of less than half an ounce results in:

  • Class B misdemeanor charge.
  • One to six years in prison. 
  • Fines up to $3,000.

Get Treatment for Alcohol or Drug Addiction

As you can see, the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse extend beyond just emotional and physical distress. So, if you or a loved one are concerned about these legal repercussions, then it may be time to seek out help as soon as possible. Be sure you contact your local recovery center and to help you beat this disease and reclaim your life! 


  1. Tennessee Drug Statutes Chart
  2. Tennessee Alcohol and Marijuana Information Laws
  3. NORML: Tennessee Laws & Penalties
  4. Tennessee Marijuana Laws
  5. Tennessee General Assembly. SB 0280
  6. FOX13: New bill could legalize marijuana in Tennessee
  7. Congressional Research Service: Drug Offenses. January 20, 2015

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