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Is possession of half an ounce of pot always a felony?

In Tennessee, possession of one-half ounce to 10 pounds of marijuana is a Class E felony. If you are found guilty of this crime, you could be sentenced to 1-6 years in prison. But there is an interesting aspect to the law that defines this crime (Tennessee Code 39-17-417).

To gain a conviction, the state must not only prove you were in possession of a half ounce of pot, it must also show that you intended to "manufacture, deliver or sell" the stuff. In some cases, that can provide the defense with a viable strategy to obtain a not guilty verdict, dismissal, or plea agreement to a lesser charge.

Was it a commercial transaction or just a casual exchange?

Tennessee Code 39-17-417 infers that a person who is in possession of one-half ounce of marijuana can be found to have the intent to manufacture, deliver or sell it. But possession of a certain weight of marijuana is only relevant when other relevant facts are considered. The state must also show there was intent. Let's say the pot was packed in multiple bags or it was found along with a scale. Those facts could provide sufficient evidence of intent. But if there was only paraphernalia related to consumption found with the pot, such as rolling papers or a pipe, it may not be sufficient.

So, what does the "intent to sell" really mean? That's up to a jury to decide. If the defense can raise enough doubts in jurors' minds concerning the state's assertion of an "intent" to engage in a commercial transaction, that may be enough to avoid a conviction.

Anyone who has been charged with a drug crime should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. No matter strong the state's case seems at first glance, there could be a way out.

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