Categories
BLOG

is it legal to grow marijuana in washington state

Editorial: Allow state’s adults to grow their own marijuana

Legislation would allow adults to grow six plants at home, joining eight other states that allow it.

  • Tuesday, January 21, 2020 10:34am
  • OpinionIn Our View

With the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012, Washington state residents 21 and older — and visitors, for that matter — are allowed to possess and use any combination of the following: an ounce of usable marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles, 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids and 7 grams of marijuana concentrate.

What you can’t have — unless you have a doctor’s permission for medical marijuana — are any live marijuana plants in your own home or garden.

Under penalty of law and potential seizure of property, you can’t grow your own.

Washington state is an outlier among states that allow the sale and possession of recreational marijuana. Of the 11 states where state law has legalized recreational cannabis, only Washington and two other states forbid growing marijuana at home; the other eight allow between three and 12 live plants per person, with most states allowing six.

The bias against “green thumbs” is among the restrictions that remain from the state’s cautious and gradual roll-out of cannabis laws. Last year’s legislative session saw a reasonable loosening of the state’s seed-to-sale controls that too-often came down hard and cost growers — otherwise operating legally — their licenses because of minor violations, such as a smudged identification tag.

Legislation in the state Senate and House would lift that restriction and allow adults to grow up to six plants at a time at home, one more example of easing paranoia regarding state law and public sentiment over cannabis.

“We’re past the ‘Reefer Madness,’ days,” said Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, who is the sponsor of Senate Bill 5155. A self-described libertarian, Walsh says allowing adults to grow a few plants seems a logical extension of state law on cannabis.

While each adult would be allowed six plants, each residence would be limited to a maximum of 15 plants. Under other restrictions outlined in the bills, each plant would have to be labeled and identify the owner and none of the marijuana produced could be sold, traded or bartered. Additionally, property owners could prohibit a renter from growing marijuana.

Both bills, introduced last year, were vetted during committee hearings but didn’t advance further. House Bill 1131 is scheduled for an executive session before the House Committee on Commerce and Gaming today, after which it could advance. Committee Chairman Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, has indicated his support for the House bill. Walsh expected her bill could also be approved soon by the Senate Labor and Commerce committee without an additional hearing.

Among the objections raised to allowing adults to grow their own marijuana have been concerns over increased availability to children and illegal sales. That hasn’t been the experience in states where home-grown marijuana is allowed, David Ducharme, an attorney working with the legislation’s proponents, told The Herald Editorial Board recently. The legal availability of cannabis in Washington state hasn’t shown to have increased its use by minors, according to the state’s Healthy Youth Survey; in fact, marijuana use among youths has showed declines in recent surveys. Allowing marijuana plants, particularly in homes where cannabis already is consumed, isn’t likely to increase the risk of kids’ exposure.

Law enforcement hasn’t reported significant problems with home production of beer and wine; the experience with home grows, limited to a few plants, is unlikely to show a different result. Like hobbyists making their own beer and wine, those growing their own cannabis are almost always law-abiding folks, Walsh said.

“Don’t assign illegal motives to my constituents,” the Eastern Washington senator said.

Among the arguments favoring the grow-your-own legislation:

It would allow those growing cannabis for their own use to know for certain what went into the marijuana. The recent scare over vaping products — especially regarding vaping liquids containing THC derived from cannabis — is now believed to have been caused by the addition of a vitamin E oil that was causing a pneumonia-like illness for hundreds of users nationwide.

It could also provide an economic boost to those providing supplies to home growers, in particular lighting and hydroponic systems that would allow for year-round cultivation.

While recreational marijuana has been legal in the state for about seven years, state lawmakers and officials have addressed various aspects of its legalization during the same period. That continues today, tightening the reins here and loosening there. Among a bill that seeks to set a new standard, House Bill 2546 would set a potency limit of 10 percent THC level for cannabis concentrates.

Legislation allowing adults to grow a few plants in their own homes is a reasonable adjustment to the voters’ wishes regarding recreational marijuana.

Legislation would allow adults to grow six plants at home, joining eight other states that allow it.

Growing pot at home could become legal in Washington state

Other states that have legalized recreational cannabis already allow home growing, but Washington does not.

Washington legislators are considering a bill that would allow anyone age 21 and over to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. (Richard Vogel/AP)

Washington state residents have long been able to brew their own beer in their basement, or ferment homemade wine in their living room. If they want to smoke a joint to unwind, though, their only legal option is to get dressed and buy one at a store.

More than eight years after Washington voters legalized recreational cannabis, some state lawmakers say it’s past time to let people grow their own pot at home.

A bipartisan group of legislators is proposing a bill that would let adults 21 and over grow cannabis plants at home for recreational use.

House Bill 1019 would limit each adult to six home-grown plants. No more than 15 plants could be cultivated per household, limiting the ability of roommates to band together and create a small-scale marijuana farm.

Under Washington state law, qualified medical cannabis patients can already grow a limited amount of marijuana plants. But for nonpatients, growing marijuana at home is a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Washington’s ban on home growing puts the state at odds with most others that have legalized recreational pot use. Of those 15 states, at least 10 allow home growing, including Oregon, Vermont, Nevada, California and Colorado. Last fall, voters in South Dakota, Arizona and Montana also approved ballot measures that legalized growing marijuana at home.

State Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, called Washington’s ban on home growing of cannabis “an antiquated policy.”

“It is time for us to evolve in this space,” said Kloba, the prime sponsor of the bill to allow home growing.

The measure has been introduced several times in the past, but has stalled. Kloba thinks that the number of states that have recently embraced home growing builds the case for Washington to do the same.

She said many of the fears associated with allowing home growing — that it would fuel illegal activity, or create neighborhoods that constantly reek of weed — haven’t come to pass in other states.

Law enforcement officials still worry, however, that homegrown pot could be easily sold on the illicit market, or that backyard cannabis plants could prove an attractive target for thieves and burglars.

“Our members, candidly, are not comfortable with the public safety aspects and public safety concerns associated with allowing marijuana home-grows,” said James McMahan of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which represents law enforcement leaders.

“We also, of course, have great concern over the exposure to children,” McMahon added at a Jan. 15 public hearing.

That concern was echoed by substance-abuse prevention advocates, particularly because the bill says the state Liquor and Cannabis Board wouldn’t have authority to enforce the rules that would apply to home marijuana grows.

“We do not want to create an environment where adults are freely growing, producing and processing marijuana at home without any training or standardization,” said Jesse Jimenez of Prevent Coalition, an organization based in Vancouver, Washington, that works to prevent youth drug and alcohol use.

John Kingsbury, co-founder of the group Homegrow Washington, said many of the concerns people express about home growing seem to relate more to large-scale cannabis operations.

“What I often hear is conflation of large-scale illicit activity with what we are actually advocating for here, which is legalizing six-plant, noncommercial home gardens,” Kingsbury said.

He added that most people won’t choose to cultivate cannabis at home, simply because “growing it is hard, and the product is readily available in stores.”

Still, some new provisions have been added to the bill this year to try to address public safety and nuisance concerns.

For one, the measure would create a new civil infraction for anyone who grows marijuana in public view, or whose marijuana production can be “readily smelled” by neighbors or passersby. Those offenses could result in a $50 fine, but wouldn’t go on someone’s criminal record.

Marijuana growing would also be banned in homes that provide day care services or host foster children.

As before, selling homegrown cannabis to another person would not be allowed. Landlords could also restrict renters from growing marijuana on their property, if they choose.

The measure passed out of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee on Friday. It would still need to pass both chambers of the Legislature — and not be vetoed by the governor — to become law.

Last year, the bill died in the House Appropriations Committee, which reviews budget-related measures.

But it’s not clear that the state’s tax collections would be hurt by allowing people to grow marijuana at home.

Timothy Nadreau, a research economist at Washington State University, said he studied how allowing marijuana home growing would affect state revenue. He concluded that cannabis tax collections would most likely continue to increase if HB 1019 passed, in part because home growing could boost people’s interest in cannabis products.

Right now, the state is collecting about $1 billion per year in marijuana excise tax revenues.

“I don’t see this having a significant impact on the state budget,” said state Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, who is co-sponsoring the measure.

Lara Kaminsky, co-founder of the Cannabis Alliance, said she thinks allowing marijuana home growing will actually be good for the cannabis industry in Washington state. She said it could create a market for greater variety in cannabis products, much as homebrewing and microbreweries did for the beer industry.

As things stand now, many customers simply go for whatever pot product is cheapest and has the highest level of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, she said.

If homegrows are allowed to flourish, “The consumer will be more discerning, have better questions and look for products that have more qualities than just a number on a package,” Kaminsky predicted.

Other states that have legalized recreational cannabis already allow home growing, but Washington does not.