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Washington Report Gives Side-Eye to Homegrow Legalization

Published on November 29, 2017 · Last updated November 16, 2020
Growing your own cannabis is a great way to save money and get to know your weed.

If legal homegrow comes to Washington state anytime soon—and that’s still a big if—it’s likely to be very, very tightly regulated.

Recommendations unveiled Wednesday by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) say that if the state does allow personal cultivation, grows should be subject to strict limits: government-issued permits, a four-plant cap, steps to ensure security and prevent access by minors, and, in the case of one proposal, even a system to track each individual homegrown plant across the state.

Washington is currently the only adult-use cannabis state that doesn’t allow residents to grow their own plants for nonmedical use. A bill passed by the Legislature in April directed the LCB to review that policy. On Wednesday, the agency released a report with three recommended “options” for lawmakers to consider.

One option would maintain the status quo and keep adult-use homegrow illegal. The other two options would establish systems to license and regulate homegrows in ways the LCB says would comply with the Department of Justice’s Cole memo, which outlines provisions states must follow to avoid federal enforcement actions.

While the LCB report outlines a path for lawmakers to legalize homegrown cannabis, it’s hardly a full-throated endorsement. It actually provides plenty of fodder against legalizing homegrow, including warnings that “home grows have operated as a cover for the illicit market and diversion and could undermine the regulated system” and that “any approach that allows for private citizens to grow marijuana at home will carry considerable resource impacts and costs for regulation and enforcement.”

This isn’t unexpected from the LCB. In 2015, the agency wrote a letter to lawmakers opposing a bill that would’ve allowed adults to grow up to six plants for personal use. It threw cold water on a similar proposal earlier this year, saying homegrow enforcement would be expensive and cut into state tax revenue from retail sales.

“People who consume marijuana should not be forced to take part in the retail market, and home cultivation is really the only way to do that.”

“The WSLCB considered many options from tightly regulated approaches to no regulations but ultimately dismissed any considerations not consistent with the Cole Memo,” Chris Thompson, the agency’s director of legislative relations, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that accompanied Wednesday’s report.

The biggest difference between the two legalization options is tracking. One option would set up a framework to track plants throughout the state, similar to track-and-trace programs that Washington and other legal states use to track retail products from seed to sale. A second option would drop that tracking requirement and instead charge local officials with controlling and enforcing limits. (Overviews of the two plans are included at the end of this article, and the LCB’s full report is available on the agency’s website.)

What’s so important about homegrow? Supporters argue that allowing adults to cultivate small amounts of cannabis for personal use would cut into illicit sales, give growers more control over the products they consume, ease access for medical patients wary of registering with the state, and put cannabis on equal footing with alcohol. It’s long been legal for Washington residents to brew their own beer and make their own wine without a license. Making hard liquor, however, requires a federal distilled spirits permit.

“We firmly believe that marijuana should be regulated very similarly to alcohol, and home brewing is legal in most states,” Morgan Fox, Marijuana Policy Project’s communications director, told Leafly in June. “People who consume marijuana should not be forced to take part in the retail market, and home cultivation is really the only way to do that.”

John Novak, an advocate who worked on a homegrow bill this year that failed to make it through the Legislature, wasn’t optimistic when the LCB began working on the recommendations. “The WSLCB could come back and say, ‘Y’know, why the hell not.’ But for the past two or three years, they’ve been fighting against it hard.”

Now’s the time to call your elected officials.

Wednesday’s report represents the most favorable stance to homegrow the LCB has taken so far, but it’s also peppered with warnings that could scare lawmakers into upholding the current ban. Its pages give prominence to the concerns of law enforcement officials, who have a whole host of concerns around homegrow. The report is virtually silent on the benefits homegrow could bring—despite the fact that nearly three-quarters (74.5%) of public comments came in favor of personal cultivation.

With the report in the hands of lawmakers, now’s the time to call your elected officials. Here are the options the LCB has recommended to them:

Option 1

Tightly Regulated Recreational Home Grows – State Framework

  • Allow recreational home grows under a strict state regulatory framework that requires a permit and tracking of plants throughout the state, with enforcement jurisdiction shared between the WSLCB and local authorities.
  • Absent a permit, growing marijuana for any purpose is illegal other than already legally sanctioned medical marijuana home growing.
  • Require tracking of all plants in the traceability system to help prevent diversion.
  • Limit of no more than four plants per household.
  • Include a statutory provision that allows law enforcement to seize and destroy all plants possessed by a person if the person has more plants than the law allows.
  • Include a statutory provision to allow recreational growers to acquire plants from licensed producers so long as the person possesses a valid permit.
  • Include requirements for security, preventing youth access, preventing diversion, etc.
  • Include the same restrictions that apply to medical marijuana patients on processing marijuana in recreational home grows (no extraction with combustible materials. See WAC 314‐55‐430)

Option 2

State Statute Framework, Local Authority Recreational Home Grows

  • Allow recreational home grows under a regulatory framework based on statewide standards set in statute, but authorized, controlled, and enforced by local jurisdictions (counties, cities).
  • Include statutory requirements for security, preventing youth access, preventing diversion, etc.
  • Require a permit to possess plants. Absent a permit, growing marijuana for any purpose is illegal other than already legally sanctioned medical marijuana home grows.
  • Limit of no more than four plants per household.
  • Include a statutory provision to allow recreational growers to acquire plants from licensed producers so long as the person possesses a valid permit.
  • Include a statutory provision that allows law enforcement to seize and destroy all plants possessed by a person if the person has more plants than the law allows.
  • Include the same restrictions that apply to medical marijuana patients on processing marijuana in recreational home grows (no extraction with combustible materials. See WAC 314‐55‐430).
  • Allow local jurisdictions to “opt‐in” for or “opt‐out” of allowing recreational home grows.

Option 3

Prohibit Recreational Home Grows

  • Do not allow recreational home grows. Maintain current status.
  • A regulated system is in place and widely available throughout the state.
  • Home grows for medical purposes, including cooperatives, are currently allowed under state law.
  • Allowing recreational home grows may provide a cover for the illicit market. This has been seen in other states that permit home grows for both medical and recreational purposes.
  • Recreational home grows may contribute to diversion, youth access, etc.; primary considerations under the guidelines set in the Cole Memo.

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Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin
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