Washington State lawmakers next month will yet again weigh whether to allow residents to grow marijuana at home, extending a debate in the legislature that’s stretched on for years.
A bipartisan bill introduced late last week would let adults 21 and older grow up to six cannabis plants and keep any marijuana produced by those plants. It’s a policy that resembles similar provisions in neighboring Oregon, as well as those in Colorado, California and nearly every other state that has legalized marijuana.
Whether the new bill has a fighting chance to be enacted, however, is anyone’s guess—though its sponsor says it will at least get a vote in the committee she chairs. Washington lawmakers have repeatedly introduced homegrow bills going back at least to 2015, but so far the measures have languished. Not a single one has made it to a full floor vote.
The latest bill, HB 1019, prefiled last week by Reps. Shelley Kloba (D) and Drew MacEwen (R), is nearly identical to last year’s legislation, which itself was a reintroduction of a measure that stalled a year before. Previous years saw separate efforts crash and burn, too.
Rep. Brian Blake (D), who previously sponsored the homegrow push, is no longer in office. “With him leaving the legislature in January, I did not want his efforts to go to waste,” Kloba told Marijuana Moment in an email. “I wanted to make sure this bill was introduced and heard.”
The measure would allow adults 21 and older to grow up to six cannabis plants per person, although no single household could grow more than 15 plants total. The plants would need to be clearly marked with the grower’s name, address and date of birth, as well as when they were planted. Growers would not need to register with the state or obtain any special license. (Medical cannabis patients registered in the state can already grow cannabis at home.)
Landlords could forbid renters or lessees from growing the plant on their property under the new bill, and all plants would need to be out of “the ordinary public view,” which essentially means not visible from public streets, sidewalks or adjacent properties.
Once harvested, homegrown marijuana would need to be labeled with the grower’s name, address and date of birth, along with the planting and harvest dates. Containers of less than an ounce of cannabis would be exempt from the labeling requirements.
The bill would also home growers to keep as much marijuana as their legal plants produce—likely more than the current one-ounce possession limit on cannabis flower. Other possession thresholds, such as a seven-gram limit on cannabis concentrates, would not change under the bill. Kloba said she couldn’t comment on those thresholds, as she wasn’t the original author of the bill.
Washington’s 2012 marijuana initiative originally omitted a homegrow provision because its authors believed that making consumers purchase products through storefronts that were taxed and regulated would make the measure more palatable to voters.
“As one of the first states to legalize cannabis, I understand that some tradeoffs were made to garner support for the initiative,” Kloba said. “Now that the industry has matured, and the public has experienced legalized cannabis in practice rather [than] just in theory, it seems as though prohibiting homegrow is an antiquated policy.”
Despite home cultivation having become a more-or-less standard component of legalization in most other states, Washington lawmakers have remained skeptical of the policy, which some worry could expand the state’s illicit cannabis market or diminish tax revenue from commercial sales.
Very little of the pushback seems to have come from licensed retail stores. At a House committee hearing in February, one of the state’s most outspoken cannabis retailers testified in favor of homegrow legislation.
“Many of us have hobby home vegetable gardens,” said Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg said, “but it doesn’t affect what we purchase from the grocery stores.”
Lawmakers are set to take up the new legislation when the new legislative session begins in mid-January. Kloba said the homegrow bill “will almost certainly be referred to the Commerce and Gaming Committee,” which she chairs.
“I am confident it will receive a fair hearing and vote in committee,” she said. “However, with the Washington House of Representatives operating remotely this year, the amount of legislation that will be passed is much less than in previous years. The speaker has made it clear that COVID relief and police accountability will be our highest priorities and it is unclear where this bill will land.”
Kloba added that she’s pursuing other cannabis legislation this year “related to righting the wrongs of the drug war and protecting medical marijuana patients.” One bill would speed the vacating of past misdemeanor criminal convictions for marijuana offenses, which are currently eligible to be cleared but require individuals to file their own petitions in most cases. Another would remove a requirement that patients with a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis register with the state in order to receive protection under the state’s existing medical marijuana law.
Meanwhile, advocates of broader drug reform are hoping to find a sponsor for a bill to decriminalize the possession of all drugs in the state. The group Treatment First Washington said last month that its proposal would mirror Oregon’s recently passed Measure 110, which replaced criminal penalties for low-level drug possession in that state with a $100 fine or a requirement to complete a health assessment. Funding comes from existing tax revenue from legal marijuana sales.
Another Washington proposal, backed by Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, would go even further, combining the decriminalization provisions similar to Oregon’s law with another voter-approved initiative from that state, Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use.
That proposal would likely go before voters in 2022, though it’s not yet clear whether the two policies would be packaged in a single bill or ballot measure. “As much as we’d like to have a single piece of legislation in Washington,” Bronner told Marijuana Moment earlier this month, “we might have two separate ones again” as was the case in Oregon.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) confused some observers in 2018, while running to be president, when he told reporters, “I may not smoke it, but I do grow it legally and we’ve got the best weed in America.” A spokesperson later told Marijuana Moment that Inslee does not in fact grow cannabis but was instead “referring to how it is legal to grow and sell in the state of Washington.”
Despite most states with legal marijuana allowing home cultivation, elected officials in some states that have legalized more recently, such as Illinois and New Jersey, have declined to include homegrow provisions. After voters passed legalization in New Jersey last month, lawmakers have argued that homegrow would create logistical concerns and divert marijuana into the illicit market.
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that marijuana possession limits would increase under the new bill. While the legislation would allow home growers to keep as much cannabis as their legal plants produce, which in many cases would exceed the state’s current one-ounce limit on marijuana flower, it would not otherwise adjust personal possession limits.
Photo courtesy of M a n u e l