6 Utterly Bizarre Tennessee Laws You Didn’t Know Existed

a raccoon on a leash and the welcome to tennessee sign

Tennessee is a place where if you hit a raccoon with your car, you can take it home and eat it, but not nurse it back to health (photos by benkrut and Denise Hasse/iStockPhoto)

​​Tennessee has a few bizarre laws on the books which range from rollerblading at the state Capital to owning pet raccoons

I’ve covered Tennessee politicians for more than 20 years. As a result, I know that they are much better at putting new laws on the books than they are at removing old ones. For instance, for years both atheists and ministers were banned from “civil” state office by the state Constitution. Though the ban was not enforced after a 1978 Supreme Court ruling, it took another 40 years for someone to have the law stricken from the books. 

While Tennessee isn’t alone in having strange or outdated laws on the books, it certainly has its fair share. Alexander Hamilton, for example, cannot run for public office in Tennessee While we’ve cleared the way for ministers and atheists, the Tennessee Constitution continues to prohibit duelists from running for office. You can’t even aid or abet the fighting of a duel. If you do, you’re throwing away any shot you have at Tennessee public office. 

the Tennessee state capital
This oddly specific “no rollerblading” law has been on the books in Tennessee since 1870 (photo by pabradyphoto/iStockPhoto)

1. Roller skating in the Tennessee Capitol

This isn’t technically a law. It’s a House Joint Resolution banning roller skating in the halls of the Capitol building. Adopted on July 6, 1870, it was approved two days later by Gov. D. W. C. Senter. What the heck was happening in the Tennessee Capitol in June of 1870? It’s unclear, but I bet they were rolling. 

a raccoon playing with toilet paper
In Tennessee, a pet raccoon must be bred in captivity and purchased from a licensed raccoon dealer (photo by Liudmila Chernetska/iStockPhoto)

2. Pet raccoons are illegal unless bred in captivity 

Pet kangaroos, camels and giraffes? Not a problem. This one is a little sad. There was a guy back in 2014 who launched a gubernatorial campaign that was designed to get his pet raccoon, Rebekah returned. Now, I generally don’t truck with keeping wild animals as pets. But for Mark Brown and Rebekah, I was willing to make an exception. 

Brown – known as Coonrippy after his grandmother – had rescued and raised raccoons for years. He had Rebekah since she was a baby. He posted videos of himself playing with his pets and having a big time. One of Coonrippy, in his massive ZZ Top Beard and overhauls, shakes his moneymaker to Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” while one of his bemused raccoons looks on. 

Was life with Coonrippy good for his raccoons? It’s hard to say. The raccoon that came before Rebekah was overweight, but then again, so am I. His “pets” seemed to enjoy hanging out with Mark as much as, say a cat, enjoys hanging out with its owner. That said, I’ll admit the videos in the shower took it to an odd place.

Anyway, the TWRA took Rebekah, which was prohibited as a pet in Tennessee. She was not purchased from a licensed breeder and it broke Coonrippy’s heart. You can own a raccoon in Tennessee, but you have to have a permit and it has to be captively bred. For the record, there are several exotic animals you CAN own without a permit including marsupials like wallabies and kangaroos. 

A wallaby got loose in Claiborne County last winter, hopping around the campus of LMU until caught. You can own nonpoisonous reptiles and amphibians like pythons or other snakes, but not alligators. You can have an alligator-like dwarf caiman. One got loose a couple of years ago near Morristown, TN and was caught in Cherokee Lake, which kind of freaked people out. What about animals like ostriches, camels or giraffes? Perfectly legal.

Deer Graze in Cades Cove
Technically, deer can be eaten if hit by a vehicle, but you should contact the TWRA with your name and address (photo by Leslie Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

3. You can eat roadkill in Tennessee

I’ll admit I don’t find this one weird, but some people do. I think they assume the carcass has been at the roadside for a while. Plus, the term roadkill is not fantastic branding. When I was a kid, my dad either hit a deer with his car or saw a deer hit. I don’t remember all the details. Whatever the case, he took the dead animal to a place and had it processed for the meat. I’ve never been much of a hunter and haven’t had much venison since that winter, but I can remember having roadkill venison summer sausage that was quite good.

Now, in Tennessee, if you accidentally hit a deer and intend to keep it for meat, you must notify law enforcement or the TWRA within 48 hours and give your name and address. It is legal to pick up other types of roadkill for consumption. 

One word of caution, make sure the animal is dead and not stunned. The last thing you need is a wounded, stunned deer coming back to life in the back seat. I think the roadkill law makes sense, especially for hungry people. But, oddly, Tennessee is a place where if you hit a raccoon with your car, you can take it home and eat it, but not nurse it back to health. 

“Tennessee is a place where if you hit a raccoon with your car, you can take it home and eat it, but not nurse it back to health.”

– John Gullion, Contributor, TheSmokies.com
A Mama Bear in a Tree in Cades Cove
Yes, it is illegal to wrestle a bear in the State of Tennessee (photo by Leslie Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

4. It is illegal to wrestle a bear in Tennessee

Back before the internet, they didn’t have YouTube. If you wanted to see animals attack stupid people, you had to do it in person. And so, traveling shows would go from town to town and men would get in the ring with muzzled and de-clawed bears to “fight” them. While wrestling bears isn’t explicitly banned, you can get there by piecing a couple of laws together. First, it is prohibited to possess a bear, if it’s not in a zoo or circus. However, wrestling bears are not included within the definition of a circus. Since zoos don’t have Festivus-style feats of strength with their animals, ipso facto, bear wrestling is rightly verboten. 

bikers on the cades cove loop
The Cove is a great place to bike on vehicle-free days. But don’t try to allow another person on a one-seat bike (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. It is illegal for two people to ride on a single-seat bicycle

Remember being a kid and hoping on the back of your friend’s bike? You’re lucky that John Q. Law didn’t show up, Sonny. Tennessee’s Motor Vehicle code says a bike can’t have more riders than “the number for which it is designed or equipped.” We finally know why all those cops were trying to get Elliott and E.T. They were scofflaws. 

The Eastern Spotted Skunk (photo by Agnieszka Bacal/shutterstock.com)
The rare Eastern Spotted Skunk can be spotted in Tennessee, but it’s uncommon (photo by Agnieszka Bacal/shutterstock.com)

6. Importing Skunks? Illegal

We only want good, local skunks in Tennessee. Unless you represent a zoo or research institution, it is illegal in Tennessee to import skunks. The law, it seems, is an effort to prevent the spread of rabies. 

Like any state, Tennessee has its fair share of strange, odd and outdated laws. But behind many of them is – or at least was – some sound reasoning. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I clipped a possum on the way into the office and he’s just about done roasting. 

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