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Tennessee, Oklahoma Among States Least Likely to Legalize Marijuana

Douglas A. McIntyre

Several states are unlikely to legalize marijuana at all, at least until a federal law approves pot for recreational use in every state.

24/7 Wall St. recently did an analysis on 11 States Least Likely to Legalize Marijuana. Tennessee and Oklahoma are near or at the top of that list.

The analysis looked carefully at both of the states and found:

Like a few other states with relatively harsh pot laws, cannabidiol (CBD) is now slightly more accessible for seriously ill patients in Oklahoma than it has been in the past as a result of recent legislation. It is important to note that CBD is not psychoactive, so while legalization advocates have praised the development, the move will likely not pave the way to full legalization any time soon.

Oklahoma is home to some of the harshest marijuana laws. Possession of any amount of marijuana can result in incarceration, and a second offense is an automatic felony. Oklahoma’s government has also expressed its disapproval of legalization. Along with Nebraska, the state filed a lawsuit against its neighbor Colorado, where recreational pot is legal, for violating federal anti-drug laws. State attorneys argued the violation has led to more illegal drugs passing across state lines. The U.S. government has urged the Supreme Court to reject the case.

Pot-related arrests in the state in 2012 numbered 252 per 100,000 people.

As for Tennessee:

Tennessee passed a law earlier this year similar to Georgia, allowing people susceptible to seizures to legally use non-psychoactive cannabidiol medicinally. But also like Georgia, without infrastructure supporting the sale of the medicine, most patients are unable to obtain the substance. Governor Bill Haslam has stated that broader medicinal marijuana laws will not likely find support. Along with restrictive and ineffective medicinal laws, Tennessee has relatively strict marijuana possession laws. While the penalty for first and second time offenders of possession of less than half an ounce of pot is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, a third time possession offender of any amount in Tennessee will face felony charges and up to six years of incarceration.

Like all states least likely to legalize pot in the near future, marijuana use among Tennessee residents is relatively rare. An estimated 9.9% of state residents over age 12 have used marijuana recently, a smaller share than in all but 10 other states. Despite low usage rates, marijuana arrest rates in Tennessee are among the highest in the nation. For every 100,000 state residents, there are 364 arrests, significantly more than the national arrest rate of 239 for every 100,000 citizens.

In Tennessee, there were 23,488 pot-related arrests in 2012.

If the federal government does not legalize pot nationwide, law makers in Tennessee and Oklahoma may not act soon — if ever.

Methodology: To identify the last states that will legalize marijuana, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed states with the harshest marijuana laws. We only considered states where medical marijuana, with the exception of cannabis oil to treat epilepsy, is not permitted. Felony charges also needed to be possible for merely possessing the plant under certain circumstances in these states. Since marijuana law reform could be imminent even in the states with the harshest laws, we also excluded states where voter initiatives are scheduled for the near future, as well as states where pro-marijuana legislation has gained support in recent months. Marijuana-related arrests per 100,000 residents through 2012 in each state came from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In addition, we considered the estimated proportion of residents 12 years and older who reported using marijuana some time in the past year, based on annualized data from 2012 and 2013, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The Marijuana Policy Project provided public opinion polls based on the most recent available survey. All data on current enforcement policies and penalties were provided by NORML.