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Want to Grow Your Own Cannabis? Get Ready to Fight ‘Big Marijuana’

June 19, 2019
(erhui1979, BerZerKer/iStock)
Illinois is about to make history as the first state to legalize recreational cannabis and allow commercial sales through the state legislature instead of via a voter initiative, pending the governor’s signature. But this historic piece of legislation almost died along the way over the increasingly contentious issue of homegrow.

Eventually, lawmakers compromised by allowing only medical cannabis patients to cultivate for themselves; recreational consumers can’t grow at all. This may sound like politics as usual, but it actually represents a worrying trend for those who believe that the right to grow your own cannabis is an essential part of a truly equitable legalization plan.


Surprise! Illinois Becomes the 11th Cannabis Legalization State

Currently, every state—except for Washington—that allows recreational cannabis dispensaries also allows homegrow. So far, none of these states have seriously considered rescinding the policy, and in Washington, there’s a growing push to add homegrow to the mix.

So what gives? Why has growing six plants at home become so controversial?

Illinois lawmakers actually passed an admirably equity-centered legalization bill, other than deciding that non-medical-patient adults can’t grow their own. And now lawmakers in New York and New Jersey appear poised to make the same mistake when considering their own legalization bills.

To find out why, let’s follow the money a bit.


Try, Try Again: Washington Lawmakers Introduce Homegrow Bill

It’s Like Home Brewing, But for Cannabis

In a recent interview with Cannabis Wire, New York State Senator Diane Savino described homegrow as a major sticking point in trying to pass legalization.

“The truth is, if you’re going to have a legal, regulated market, it’s hard to manage homegrow. I don’t know how you really do that. And every state that has it, has said to us, ‘Don’t do it,’” said Savino.

Savino’s office did not reply to several inquiries from Leafly seeking clarification on which states advised against homegrow and for what specific reasons. But apparently she hasn’t spoken with Shaleen Title—one of five members of the Cannabis Control Commission in Massachusetts—because Title put “Allow Homegrow” at #1 in her widely disseminated list, “10 Must-Haves in Any Cannabis Legalization Bill.”

“The truth is, if you’re going to have a legal, regulated market, it’s hard to manage homegrow. I don’t know how you really do that. And every state that has it, has said to us, 'Don’t do it'”
New York State Senator Diane Savino

Meanwhile, we do know that some of the biggest players in New York’s nascent cannabis industry have been aggressively lobbying against allowing individuals to cultivate their own cannabis for personal use.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the advocacy website Marijuana Moment gained access to a 29-page document that was sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo by the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association (NYMCIA) roughly a month before he announced a legalization plan that specifically excluded homegrow.

The NYMCIA represents a who’s who of Big Marijuana in the state, including Acreage NY (featuring John Boehner), and MedMen (yup, those guys). The industry group’s policy statement featured an entire chapter titled “The Fallacy of Home Grow” that cited five reasons why allowing at-home personal cultivation poses a supposed risk to public safety.


Why Buy at the Dispensary When You Can Grow Cannabis at Home for Cheaper?

Here are those five reasons, and my response to each:

1. Homegrow will make it impossible for the state to eliminate the black market.

An adult growing six plants securely in their backyard or basement no more represents a dangerous black market in cannabis than someone who brews small batches of beer at home.

2. Homegrow will make it impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between legal and illegal products, thus frustrating enforcement efforts.

Homegrow typically allows an adult to grow only six plants—does the NYMCIA really want the cops arresting people for such small amounts? Are the authorities not able to distinguish between a dangerous criminal operation and a six-plant homegrow? Big Marijuana is basically saying that if the only weed that’s legal is the stuff they package and sell, then it’ll be much easier for the police to bust anyone operating outside that system.

3. Homegrow will undermine the state’s harm-reduction goal of ensuring that cannabis sold in New York State is grown without noxious pesticides or other contaminants.

People who cultivate their own cannabis have total control over how it’s grown, harvested, and processed, same as people who grow their own tomatoes.


Home Cannabis Cultivation and Possession Laws: A State-by-State Guide

4. Homegrow will undermine the state’s public health interest in ensuring that cannabis sold in New York State is tested, packaged, and labeled correctly.

Yes, it’s a legitimate benefit to have your cannabis lab tested, but cannabis can be grown organically at home for a fraction of what dispensaries charge, thus making it available to those who can’t otherwise afford it, including medical cannabis patients and those seeking an alternative to alcohol or opioids.

5. Homegrow will cost the state tax revenue, thus hindering the state’s ability to fund priorities such as drug abuse treatment and community investment.

The government spent the last one hundred or so years wasting trillions of dollars on arresting cannabis consumers and tearing apart people’s lives and families, and now I can’t grow six plants of Bubba Kush on my back patio because it’s gonna deprive them of a tiny trickle of tax revenue?


5 Reasons Why You Should Consider Growing Your Own Cannabis

My High Five

Naturally, the NYMCIA letter never mentions that homegrow might hurt their bottom line. But that’s clearly the reason Big Marijuana joined forces to push homegrow out of New York. And every state that legalizes from now on will face the same pressure, since the increasingly corporatized and capitalized Wall Street wing of the cannabis industry will no doubt continue to lobby to protect its own interests above those of consumers and patients.

Not that the entire industry shares this view.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), a far older, larger, and more representative industry association, says it doesn’t oppose homegrow, and even believes personal cultivation can help spark an interest in craft cannabis the same way home brewing has helped spur the market in craft beer.


Legalization Isn’t Enough: 10 Things Every New Cannabis Law Must Have

But mostly it will be up to medical cannabis patients and activists to push back against Big Marijuana’s brazen attempts to roll back our inalienable rights in this regard. In New Jersey, there’s already been public protests to make lawmakers understand the many benefits of allowing homegrow.

And in that spirit, here are my top five reasons for allowing homegrow, which we all need to use when pushing back against the brazen attempts to curtail our freedoms.

Five Reasons to Allow At-Home Personal Cannabis Cultivation:

1. Provides a check on high prices at dispensaries, giving people an affordable option
2. Maintains cannabis plant biodiversity
3. Patients can access specific strains that work best for their conditions
4. Growing your own is a fun, life-affirming process
5. It’s pot, not plutonium

David Bienenstock's Bio Image

David Bienenstock

Veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock is the author of "How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" (2016 - Penguin/Random House), and the co-host and co-creator of the podcast "Great Moments in Weed History with Abdullah and Bean." Follow him on Twitter @pot_handbook.

View David Bienenstock's articles

  • videosavant

    There are still a lot of things about cannabis legalization that make no sense at any level. Homegrow is absolutely one of them but I find possession limits to be even more mind-boggling.

    So, if I live in a state that legalizes cannabis and that state has a 1-ounce possession limit and I happen to prefer a diverse cannabis pantry tipping in at just over 3 ounces, the size of my stash makes my possession a criminal offense? Yes, that is what most states have decided.

    How does that make any sense? The state has no interest in determining how many cans of beer I have in my refrigerator, or bottles in my wine cellar. But when it comes to weed, the first ounce is legal and all the rest is criminal. Really?

    I understand the concern that possession of large amounts of cannabis may create the risk of illegal sales. OK, but then law enforcement need to prove that my 3 ounces is for sales, rather than my personal consumption. That can’t be so difficult now, can it?

    It seems the state is determined that I should live my life in criminal shadows. The net result is that I didn’t have any respect for cannabis laws prior to legalization and I have the same lack of respect now.

    • Delta Nine

      Hear, hear!

    • Highway 69

      “So, if I live in a state that legalizes cannabis and that state has a 1-ounce possession limit and I happen to prefer a diverse cannabis pantry tipping in at just over 3 ounces, the size of my stash makes my possession a criminal offense? Yes, that is what most states have decided.”

      In California, where Prop 64 legalized cannabis, the one ounce possession limit applies to how much you have on your person — not how much stash you you may have in your pantry.

      • Yeowza

        Same as Oregon.

        • Highway 69

          Yup… I guess the “possession” issue could be confusing to some, but common sense or logic says if you are growing 6 plants, your yield will be far greater than an ounce per plant! lol!

    • Ivan van Ogre

      I agree but I think we are taking baby steps here. We still have a long way to go in this country. It WILL get better.

  • jontomas

    We saw the beginning edge of this encroachment on our right to grow when the Greedy Sellers Against Legalization [GSAL] maliciously inserted the insidious “Halo” rule into Nevada’s legalization. – This rule prohibits anyone who lives within 25 miles of a marijuana store from growing their own. In the desert state of Nevada, that’s a virtual ban on home growing for 95 percent of the population! – The ONLY reason for this rule is to increase the industry profits at the expense of consumers’ freedom and rights!

    We have had to fight against the GSAL in every state that has re-legalized marijuana. – We lost to them in Ohio, Arizona and in the first attempts in California, Colorado, Oregon and elsewhere. They almost beat us in Washington, which may be part of the reason that state doesn’t have home grow.

    Now comes this massive move. – The ONLY thing that can protect us is a true, national, marijuana consumers union!

    NORML and MPP have clearly become more industry focused than advocates for consumers. – Please, someone, let’s get this started! – I have my check for membership dues ready to write and send!

  • dulles1969

    As a gardner at heart, growing your own plant in your own garden should not be a crime. Castor bean and deadly nightshade – entirely lethal! and legal. Poppies? legal. Datura? dangerous deliriant, totally legal. Salvia – dissociative, legal. Wormwood? legal. Morning glory? powerful psychedelic, legal. But marie-jee-wanna? Is the mere sight of a cannabis plant so corrupting, so horrific, that it cannot be allowed to be seen in public, it must only be grown in the controlled environment of a licensed facility? What a load of hooey. It’s pot not plutonium, indeed.

  • this is karen mahoney pope and have a severe stroke. i am from vicksburg, ms. marijuana is illegal. LEGALIZE POT NOW!!! thank-you!

  • MobyDick123

    I can not see no reason whatsoever why a person can´t be allowed to grow 4-6 plants at home. You have direct controll over what you are growing and what you ad when growing it. You get a nice time nursing your own plants and finally consume your own harvest. And as for consumer safety i don´t think anyone growing such a small amount will poison themselves with all kinds of chemicals. But as laws are changing in the US as for everything else it has just become all about the money. It just has become a big bussines, sadly so.

    • Ivan van Ogre

      Greed, another weed (the bad kind)
      that is impossible to eradicate.

  • YearofAction

    The 10th Amendment established the rights of PEOPLE to grow cannabis under State law. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment established that States cannot abridge the privileges and immunities of CITIZENS to grow cannabis. These amendments were ratified by the States long before the malformed federal definition of marijuana was misconstrued to surreptitiously effect the prohibition of cannabis.

    There is nothing established by these Amendments for corporations to grow cannabis. We must not allow federal law to continue to deny us our constitutional rights, privileges and immunities to grow cannabis, for the subordinate desires of corporate profits.

    The necessary and proper way to end the mistaken prohibition of cannabis, and continue the enforcement of the prohibition of corporate growing of cannabis, is to contact our members of Congress about reconstructing the malformed federal definition of marijuana so that it carefully deschedules cannabis by clearly describing how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis, while retaining the legitimate federal prohibitions that control the undesired proliferation of marijuana, regardless of its Scheduled status. Consider this reconstructed definition:

    The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is the intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

    By literally stating that marijuana means cannabis smoke, the reconstructed definition will legislatively override the longstanding federal misconstruction that marijuana means cannabis. It will restrain States from maliciously misconstruing federal marijuana law. It will automatically restore banking privileges to businesses engaged in cannabis commerce. It will oblige corporations to outsource their supplies of cannabis from citizens competing in the supply-side of a diversified cannabis market, and it will preclude corporations from enticing children to “smoke marijuana”.

    In terms of our U.S. heritage, the reconstructed definition will help to prevent misconstruction or abuse of the Constitution’s powers, extend the ground of public confidence in the Government, and best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution, as well as establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, by adhering to the self-evident truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

  • dhectorg

    It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out, cannabis businesses want you to buy from them, not growing your own. It’s that simple. They are aggressively lobbying state legislatures to keep home growing illegal. The solution? Of course, most legislators will do the bidding of any industry that gives them money, so cannabis users have to be louder than the industry lobbyists. Call/ email/ visit your state rep’s and senator’s offices and let them know that you will work to unseat them if they don’t support home grow. We can lobby too, but we need big numbers of people turning up and protesting. People have to inundate their offices with calls, emails and visits until they relent.

  • MasterWolfmoon

    Go ahead and TRY to stop people. Your not going to. This ban on homegrown is a complete violation of a legal consumer’s civil liberty. You can make your own beer/moonshine in private, same with weed. Big weed companies can go f themselves. Again, try,I say TRY to stop me!

    • Ivan van Ogre

      And people who live in little burgs in the middle of nowhere are at the mercy of whatever lowlife happens to be the dealer in that area. He might be semi-OK but other people you encounter might not be so nice.

      Grow-Your-own sets you free from all of that.

      Good seeds, good lights and good soil are all do-able for your average homegrower. I believe that even a total noob can get good results with these three things. Toss in a ton of YouTube videos and a lot of reading and you are on your way.

  • boing757

    I live in the one state that has legal Cannabis but doesn’t allow home growing.I believe that the law disallowing home growing is lightly enforced when it comes to personal use growing.The only arrests I’ve heard of are large illegal black market growing of which there have been many.Usually run by Chinese nationals in the country illegally.

    • Ivan van Ogre

      Having that shadow of prison hovering over you isn’t right though.

      They’re not likely to bother with you over one or two plants but if they want to hurt you for some other political/personal reason it can and will be used against you in a Court of Law!

  • Tim Bambam

    I also believe that if I grow my own pot whatever I decide to use n the plant is my problem. I also think that I have a lot more control of what is being used as fertilizer by growing myself.
    I guess as New Yorkers we now know where the big fight will be in gaining legalization. I will fight until I can’t for the right to grow my own.
    By not allowing people to grow at home the government would be putting more pressure on the police. How are they supposed to know what’s legal and what’s not? Most people carry pot in something other than the medical grade container that is being used in most places. And once it’s been ground and put into an airtight container how are the police going to distinguish between what’s legal?

  • Scotty Myers

    Damn good article. Glad I am up on this. Not that I have the time or inclination to grow, I don’t.
    But for those that do, why not? I grew up growing common crops.
    The diversity that private cultivation brings, is so needed in this day and age.
    With the ever-growing population growth of the world, we all need to be able to spread
    ourselves out and create. Do not give up your rights as a HUMAN BEING.
    Remember, it’s all about 1’s and 0’s now.

  • Seth Tyrssen

    Looks like a good reason to support your local black market. I warned of this “corporate take-over” some time ago.

    • Ivan van Ogre

      It’s a great reason to Grow Your Own.

      If you have a conscientious dealer who sells a quality product at an agreeable price then you should support that dealer till the day you die.

      But not all localities are so fortunate. It’s those poor souls in those weed deserts who need to have the ability to do it themselves.

      Maybe one day the dispensaries will come to them. In the meantime…

  • BruceIshikawa

    It’s a plant. All arguments in favor of ANY kind of control have no weight. Free growing and distribution should be a right, Just like my tomatoes.

  • Yeowza

    Good luck with trying to stop people from growing their own….The challenge would be to retract from allowing people to home brew beer and wine. I grew (Oregon) one time with and indoor set up….for all it takes to monitor….well…it’s easier to buy. However, I would try again. It’s a weed sure, but to get descent bud is not an instant success. In Washington State they DO NOT allow homegrown, BUT, people still do under the radar…which is pretty easy…unless you get over zealous and tell everyone. It’s a plant…If I lived in a state that said I could not grow, and I wanted to…well….Life finds a way.

  • Morgan Gritley

    that sounds about right. it’s called capitalism, another form of feudalism.

  • 24 Hour Man

    So silly the hand wringing over a non poisonous plant…kudos to Massachusetts which allows home growing

  • Vance Vance

    Those aren’t marijuana plants, officer; they’re hemp…

  • Derek Noland

    There is another mind boggling WTF, besides it being legal to make your own booze. Think about the cost to companies when employees call in sick due to a hangover. I have never had a cannabis hangover, sometimes I ate to much, but I still made it to work. I won’t even begin to mention all the legal substances that are far worse not just to the consumer but the environment as well.

  • Larry Megugorac

    I have found that growing is a lot of work to produce quality herb…in my state, growers have realized the Gov’t greediness with 40% tax (local and State) that they have lowered Oz prices to $100/oz. At that price, it’s hardly worth it to grow your own. However NO F’n Gov’t can stop what you grow in your own backyard! That’s preposterous!!!!

    There is no F’n way the “Big Marijuana” will ever stop me from growing in my own backyard….that’s also preposterous!!!!!

  • Ivan van Ogre

    1. You will NEVER eliminate the black market for weed. There will always be someone growing and selling it. The only thing you can do is shrink the black market and/or improve it.

    Homegrow will put a serious dent in the black market. People grow because they can’t get good weed at a decent price whether legally or illegally. They live where there are no dispensaries and this forces the customer to deal with the black market. If they could get it at a store legally they’d drop their local dealer in a heartbeat, especially if he sells inferior weed at too high a price.

    Allowing homegrow could force the blackmarket to up their game, buy better growing equipment and purchase better seeds. And if they are too lazy or greedy to up their game it’s all the more reason to let their customers do it themselves.

    2. Let me call that bluff: Require home growers to pay $5 for a homegrow license. Make it something they can do at home, online or at the Post Office etc.

    Impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between legal and illegal products? Hogwash! Are they growing it somewhere prohibited? Bust them. Are they poisoning the soil or water or doing some other ecological damage, raising too many plants, selling them across state lines or selling them to dispensaries? Bust them all. The illegal grows will be identifiable.

    3. Noxious pesticides or other contaminants? See 2. The only real worry here is that some noob makes a serious mistake of some kind and winds up with pneumonia weed. The way to rectify this is with good information. No one wants to poison themselves or others. Beyond that you take your chances, and sometimes bad things will happen, that’s life.

    4. Ensure that cannabis sold in New York State is tested, packaged, and labeled correctly. Just get THAT right.

    5. True right up to the comma. Talk of funding priorities such as drug abuse treatment and community investment is talk. I will believe that talk when I see it BEING DONE. What I DO expect is to see them stealing that money and wasting it on their own kickback-laden pet projects.
    The ONLY reason I’m not growing my own is because I live in SF, CA and I have easy access to high quality herb at reasonable prices. At the end of the day growing your own weed is WORK. I’d do it if I had to but I’d much prefer to just walk in the store and buy it. CA makes that possible and I will always be thankful for that.

  • Christopher Steele

    TAXES TAXES TAXES and fines and penalties and incarceration; they will be missing out in millions in taxes and the judicial branch of the government will see their population decrease.