JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A year and a half after major marijuana legislation became effective in Virginia, law enforcement and legislators on both sides of the border are confronting the consequences.
Virginia decriminalized the possession of marijuana in 2021. Some lawmakers say the decision to allow individuals to grow up to four marijuana plants has created an effective black market.
Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City), majority leader in the Virginia House, told News Channel 11 the state won’t go backward on legalization.
“We’re going to have to try to work together to try to come up with a solution to try to move forward in a way that would help us make sure that we know where this marijuana is coming from, from seed to sale,” Kilgore said.
Across the state border in Tennessee, and across the street in places like Bristol, law enforcement officers have to handle wildly different legal realities.
Criminal justice professor Eric Stanton said his sources in law enforcement haven’t found more people in possession of marijuana, but they have seen some changes. Most often, he said, they’re finding people in possession of marijuana along with other controlled substances, or with a weapon, which is illegal under federal law.
“Say somebody from Tennessee who is you know, legal to carry a handgun weapon, whatever they want to, and they go over into Virginia,” Stanton said. “Regardless if they have that weapon on them or not, buy marijuana legally, and then bring it back and then pick back up their weapons, start carrying it now, that’s become illegal.”
Legislators in Tennessee have toyed with legalization in the past, but bills have never gotten far.
State Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) and Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) said they plan to file a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis this week. They say it’s time for Tennessee to catch up to its neighbors and reap the tax revenue benefits.
Some of their colleagues disagree.
Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) told News Channel 11 that Tennessee should stick with federal law when it comes to cannabis.
“I don’t know how much we should be talking about marijuana in Tennessee and Virginia, as long as it’s a schedule one drug, which is the same as heroin nationwide, which applies to Tennessee, Virginia and beyond,” said Campbell.
He said he’s not seeing a great interest among his constituents for legalization either.
Stanton says that given the movement towards legalization nationwide, it’s not a matter of if Tennessee will legalize marijuana but when.