JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Following President Biden’s recent order to pardon everyone convicted of simple marijuana possession charges, officials in Tennessee say the pardon won’t make much of an impact here.
“If there comes a time in Tennessee where the laws change, then I’ll abide by it, but at this point [marijuana] is still illegal and we’ll prosecute it,” said District Attorney of the Third District Dan Armstrong.
Armstrong says that if people are charged with possession, there are ways it can eventually be taken off their record. “If they’re charged, if they do their probation and pay their fines, those things are expugnable and they get it taken off their record.”
Sheriff Jeff Cassidy with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office said oftentimes a marijuana charge is one of serval other charges.
“We’re seeing it in addition to guns, drugs, other hardcore drugs, fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and it’s not the person just with your marijuana for personal use and paraphernalia,” said Cassidy.
In Sullivan County, someone with a small marijuana charge won’t have much jail time, according to Cassidy.
“We have the pre-trial release, somebody on a low-risk, misdemeanor– a first-time offense- they wouldn’t grace this door for an hour and they’d be right back out. Even our magistrates would do an OR bond on them so they’re not going to spend much time at all in my jail.”
Cassidy told News Channel 11 that their main focus is meth, heroin and fentanyl because of the relationship between the drugs and deadly overdoses in the area.
“When we’re using operatives to look into drug transactions and drug trafficking, it’s meth, heroin and fentanyl and the fentanyl [is] becoming about 99% of our submissions to TBI. Everything is coming positive with fentanyl, that’s our main focus because that’s what’s causing these deadly overdoses. “
While no one is in jail for “simple possession” of a drug, a local advocate says the decriminalization order is still helpful.
“If you have the money to just get out of it, afford a lawyer, get it expunged then it’s not a problem for you and that’s just another thing that tends to affect poor and working-class people and people of color more than it does other groups of people,” said Ben Putland.
Putland said this order will help create a path toward legalization.
“Moves like this will start to remove some of the stigma attached to marijuana to allow for research into its benefits or its adverse effects if there are any. It’ll allow us to have a better understanding of what it is as a substance. “
In Tennessee, Marijuana is a schedule six drug, meaning that it’s the lowest drug in the state system.