Washington State lawmakers took public testimony Thursday on a bill that would, more than a decade after voters approved cannabis legalization, finally allow adults to grow the plant for themselves at home.
House Bill 1614, heard by the House Committee on Regulated Substances and Gaming, would permit cultivation of up to six cannabis plants for personal use by residents 21 and older. A vote on the bill by the panel is scheduled for next week.
Washington was one of the first in the nation to legalize cannabis, but its 2012 law didn’t include homegrow provisions. While most other legal states now permit adults to grow a small number of plants for personal use, lawmakers in Washington have rejected numerous past efforts to legalize the practice, and it remains classified as a felony.
“The basic premise under this bill is that cannabis is a plant, and you can buy products made from it in a store,” Rep. Shelley Kloba (D), HB 1614’s lead sponsor and a co-chair of the substances and gaming committee, said before public testimony began. “Making it illegal to grow at home seems just not logical.”
Kloba stressed that the bill’s proposed six-plant personal limit aligns with caps in many other states where cannabis is legal. “This is very much about personal use,” she said. “We’re not creating little black market—or illicit market—gardens anywhere. This is not a sort of commercially sustainable number of plants.”
Beyond the six-plant limit, cultivation would need to be hidden from public view and not readily smelled. Cannabis would also need to be secured to prevent access by minors. Failure to meet those standards would be punishable as civil infractions. Households would be subject to a total plant limit of 15 regardless of the number of adult residents.
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Efforts to legalize homegrow have been a regular occurrence in Washington’s legislature going back to 2015, but so far each has stalled. Another bill, HB 1019, also sponsored by Kloba, passed out of the same committee in 2021 but went no further. Kloba said the new version of her bill sets stricter limits in an effort to win more votes.
Few other committee members weighed in on the bill during the Thursday’s hearing, although at one point Rep. Kristine Reeves (D) raised vague concerns of federal preemption “because it is still an illegal activity at the federal level.” (That didn’t stop the state from collecting more than $550 million in legal cannabis tax revenue in 2021.)
Reeves also said she’d heard worries that home cultivation could “cause some challenges for home appraisals” if photos of homes include cannabis.
“I think, when a person is getting their home appraised, they have some control over whether or not they’re showing things,” Kloba replied, though she said she’d be open to amending the bill.
Many in law enforcement, meanwhile, are resolutely opposed to personal cultivation, which they say will be difficult to enforce and could fuel unregulated sales, including to minors. Testifying for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Deputy Policy Director Taylor Gardner said she would prefer lawmakers keep cannabis “in a well regulated commercial setting.”
If lawmakers do allow home cultivation, Gardner added, they should consider amending HB 1614 to impose more restrictions, such as Nevada’s provision that personal cultivation is only allowed if someone’s residence is more than 25 miles from the nearest state-licensed commercial retailer.
Other commenters noted the contradiction between the state’s efforts to prevent the creation of a large commercial cannabis industry—the state has long barred things like vertical integration and out-of-state investment in cannabis businesses—and lawmakers’ failure to legalize noncommercial cultivation by individuals.
“We have a market where you don’t want to encourage Big Cannabis, but at the same time, we don’t want people to grow their own,” said Bailey Hirschberg, a cannabis advocate and writer who was a volunteer organizer for Initiative 502, the 2012 ballot measure that legalized marijuana. “That seems like a kind of weird series of priorities to me.”
Hirschburg said that volunteers in 2012 “took a lot of flack during that campaign” for the measure’s lack of a homegrow allowance, noting it was one of the features he heard complaints about most.
Committee members also heard public comment Thursday on two other cannabis bills: one that would ban the sale of cannabis extracts with THC concentrations of greater than 35 percent and another that would raise taxes on high-potency cannabis to as much as 65 percent. The panel didn’t vote on either proposal.
Washington’s legislative session is gearing up to be a busy one when it comes to drug policy. Earlier this year, lawmakers filed a new bill that would legalize the use of psilocybin by adults. A separate version was introduced early last year with far fewer cosponsors, and while that bill received a committee hearing, it did not ultimately advance.
Meanwhile, a plan that would open Washington to interstate cannabis commerce cleared a committee vote last month. And just this week, bills to promote social equity in the cannabis industry and provide employment protections for adults who use marijuana advanced through initial committee votes.
State lawmakers also face a summer deadline to rewrite the state’s approach to simple drug possession. The state’s current law against possession—which lawmakers enacted as a compromise following a 2021 decision invalidated the state’s felony law against drug possession—is set to expire on July 1 of this year. While possession is now classified as a gross misdemeanor, some more progressive lawmakers want the state to use the opportunity formally decriminalize.
In a radio interview this week, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) predicted that lawmakers will ultimately settle on a bill that increases access to treatment and recovery while also maintaining criminal penalties. “I am against the legalization of hard drugs,” he said. “We’ve got to have an adequate incentive for people to get into treatment.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis / Side Pocket Images.