Since marijuana and THC products are now being looked at for nationwide decriminalization, many Tennesseans are wondering about the legal, economic, and potential health implications they may face with these products on the market. These three areas of concern have major impacts on the disparities cause by drug enforcement laws in Tennessee, the potential revenue for the state, and the general health of Tennesseans consuming THC products.
Delta-8 Legislation in Tennessee
As more states decriminalize marijuana, Tennessee has moved forward to decrimianlize THC products, especially Delta-8, a psychoactive substance found in the cannabis plant. House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R – Portland) specified on April 13 at the Criminal Justice Committee meeting that his bill HB1927 was in no way connected to the legalization of marijuana.
The market for Delta-8 is already having a huge impact on the state of Tennessee and its residents. Due to increased reports in Tennessee of accidental consumption of Delta-8 by children and some adults, Delta-8 products have come under intense scrutiny by the Tennessee legislature. A shift in the stance on Delta-8 occurred on April 13 after Rep. Lamberth proposed an amendment to the bill which would not ban Delta-8, but only regulate its sale by companies, and implement regulations including warning labels or age restrictions on purchases. The amendment was was unanimously approved by the Justice Committee.
HB1927 includes a 5% tax on Delta-8 products, which is less than alcohol and tobacco, and would generate about $10 million a year for the state.
“We’re not doing that for this but it does show that there is a market for these products already out there that is growing. So this allows that market to continue but it puts severe restrictions and many necessary restrictions on this industry,” Lamberth said.
Most important to consider is the health implications as Delta-8 has not been officially evaluated or approved for consumption by the FDA. Also, 104 adverse events were reported by the FDA between December 1, 2020, and February 28, 2022, while the National poison control centers received 2,362 cases between January 1, 2021, and February 28, 2022. The FDA expressed concerns over contaminated products due to the manufacturing process for Delta-8 and online products that appeal to children.
“Unless just a vender chooses to do so out of the goodness of their heart and because their business model requires that…a seven-year-old could literally walk into any gas station or retail store right now and buy a package of high THC material and consume that,” Rep. Lamberth said at the Criminal Justice Committee meeting.
On April 1, the United States passed through Congress to the Senate the bill H.R.3617, which would remove marijuana from the scheduled substances list, ultimately decriminalizing marijuana. This is a step beyond the national H.R.365 bill introduced in 2021 that would only move marijuana to a schedule 3 controlled substance, meaning only allowing medical use rather than recreational use like with H.R. 3617. With Delta-8 off the table for criminalization in Tennessee and the potential nationwide decriminalization of marijuana now looming, Tennesseans need to understand the judiciary implications, the potential impacts on the economy, and the potential health implications of marijuana legalization in Tennessee.
Marijuana Legislation in Tennessee
In 2018, 42% of all drug-related arrests were for marijuana possession in Tennessee. Carter County, a county on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, saw the a 977% rise in arrests of Black people between 2010 and 2018, the biggest rise greatest rise in racial disparities out of all U.S. counties, according an ACLU study. This is despite the fact that marijuana consumption rates are relatively equal between African Americans and Caucasians. African Americans were more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared with Caucasians in the 2018 summary.
When comparing disparities in other states with legal marijuana laws, according to the NIH National Center for Biotechnology Information’s research, arrest disparities for marijuana between African Americans and Caucasians after legalization in Washington State, between 2012-2015, saw a significant decrease in arrest rates and stayed low, but the relative disparities in arrest rates for African Americans increased for those of legal age and remain unchanged for young adults.
“The fact of the matter is law enforcement has used marijuana convicts as a way to disproportionally marginalize communities of color through mass incarceration,” said Rev. Sam Brown, a civil rights leader at the Knoxville chapter of the NAACP. “So taking the measure to decriminalize that I think is a step in the right direction however, it is not the fullness of what needs to occur.”
The U.S. could save $7.7 billion per year by not enforcing marijuana prohibition laws, according to economist Jeffrey Miron. His 2005 report also said that the national tax revenue of marijuana, if taxed like all other goods, could reach an estimated annual sum of $2.4 billion and $6.2 billion if taxed like alcohol and tobacco.
Tennessee could see tax revenue of around $132 million over three years, according to the Tax Foundation. Although money is a wonderful motivator, some economists like Dr. Donna Bueckman, a professor of economics at the University of Tennessee, are more concerned with the moral implications of creating a market.
“Medicinal use is one thing,” Bueckman said in an interview. “Making it legal for everybody is a different question, right. So if you have the ability to get it through a prescription to figure out how to get off of another drug maybe that’s valid but to me, the ultimate question is should there be a market, not the economics raising all this tax revenue.”
With Tennessee on the front lines in the war on opioids, some, like Peter Clark, a professor of medical ethics at Saint Joseph’s University, argue that marijuana could help combat dependency on harder drugs such as opioids and that research in this area should be expanded. A 2017 study conducted by the CDC found 44,000 cases of opioid use disorders in Tennessee and 1,296 fatal overdoses, not counting two of the highest opioid risk groups, which are the homeless and incarcerated.
The FDA has yet to approve cannabis to be marketed as treatment for illnesses or diseases. There is, however, one cannabis-derived drug, Epidiolex, which has been approved by the FDA along with synthetic cannabis-related products such as Marinol, Cesamet, and Syndros.
As legislation continues to change with respect to marijuana and Delta-8, it is important for Tennesseans to consider the pros and cons of marijuana and THC products, and stay up-to-date on research as it emerges. Even with the potential legalization of marijuana on the horizon, many facets are still in need of study and consideration before we completely understand marijuana and its impact on our state, our nation, and our bodies.