A renewed effort in Washington State to allow adults to grow marijuana at home had its first hearing in Olympia last week, with a House committee considering a bill that would permit individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.
A committee vote on the proposal could come as soon as this Friday.
Though Washington was among the first states in the nation to legalize commercial marijuana, growing the plant at home for recreational use remains a felony. Lawmakers have repeatedly rejected past personal cultivation proposals in the years since voters approved a 2012 legalization initiative, citing obstacles to enforcement and a worry that homegrown cannabis would be sold on the illicit market.
If last Friday’s hearing is any indication, however, this year could be different. Public testimony on the new homegrow bill, HB 1019, was relatively low-key, and most questions from lawmakers focused on minor details, such as how homegrow would compare to home beer brewing and whether landlords should be able to prohibit plants in rental units.
“I was surprised by the reasonableness of it,” said John Kingsbury, co-founder of advocacy group Homegrow Washington, told Marijuana Moment in an email after the hearing. “It isn’t always this way. In fact, it has never been this smooth before.”
The bill, HB 1019, is currently in the House Commerce and Gaming Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Shelley Kloba (D), who is also the lead sponsor of the homegrow proposal. During an executive session later this week, lawmakers could vote to advance the legislation.
“This is a bill we’ve seen a few times before in this committee,” Kloba said at the recent public hearing, noting that momentum for the policy shift has only grown as homegrow has become “a fairly standard part” of marijuana legalization in other states. “Prohibiting homegrow is an antiquated policy, and it is time for us to evolve in this space.”
That point was echoed by homegrow advocates, who noted that nearly every other U.S. state that has legalized marijuana for adults allows home cultivation. Washington, by contrast, allows only registered medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis.
“This bill is well in line with the trend from other states, underscoring that we are not in front of this issue but rather coming into harmony with other legal states,” testified Lara Kaminsky, government affairs liaison for The Cannabis Alliance, an industry advocacy group.
The only other state with legal cannabis sales that forbids home cultivation is Illinois, where the offense is treated as a civil infraction rather than a felony. New Jersey, which legalized marijuana in November’s election but has yet to launch legal sales, will also outlaw homegrow under implementation legislation on the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D).
Washington activists initially excluded homegrow from their 2012 initiative over worry that the policy might not be embraced by voters. Until that point, no other state had yet legalized marijuana for adult use.
Policymakers have also expressed concerns that letting people grow their own marijuana at home could reduce state tax revenue from commercial cannabis sales or divert homegrown product into the illegal market. But successful homegrow policies in other states, advocates said, have shown those fears to be overblown.
“What’s being proposed here would not be a bold new experiment, but rather a well-worn path,” Kingsbury said. “Crime hasn’t exploded in states that allow home growing, and tax revenues have not suffered.”
Under the new legislation, home growers could be charged with a civil infraction if odors from their plants cause a public nuisance or if plants can be seen from public property. Those provisions, which weren’t included in past Washington homegrow bills, are meant to provide recourse for neighbors and prevent plants from being stolen.
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Stanley Garnett, a former Colorado district attorney who now works at cannabis-focused law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, called HB 1019 a “prudent and thoughtful” bill.
“I think the possibility of spinoff problems from a law enforcement perspective are very very limited,” the former prosecutor testified.
But some in Washington law enforcement are still skeptical. James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, said the group’s members are concerned the homegrow law would be difficult to enforce and could expose children to marijuana. He said the proposal “is inconsistent and contrary to the reasons why we understand the voters enacted Initiative 502,” the state’s legalization law.
“We want to caution you all on what your expectations are of our ability to do this,” McMahan told lawmakers about enforcement of the proposal. “Many of the restrictions and limitations in this bill are things that would only be known if our officers were inside the home.”
For example, police wouldn’t know whether residents were growing more than the allowed limit unless they obtained a warrant to enter and search the property, McMahan said, “which we think is going to be fairly rare.”
Advocates pointed out that it’s already standard practice in law enforcement to seek a warrant if police have reasonable suspicion to believe a person is breaking the law. “This is the system we have for other concerns with illegal activity,” Kingsbury said, “and that system appears to be working well.”
State Rep. Melanie Morgan (D) also pushed back against McMahan’s claim that HB 1019 would expose more children to marijuana. “We allow drinking in the home. We allow smoking in the home. We allow home brewing in the home, among other things,” she said. “I get it that you have your safety concerns, because that’s your job, but I would rather—instead of me saying that it’s no good—that we collaborate together.”
Morgan also took issue with a provision in the current bill that would allow landlords to prohibit tenants from growing marijuana in rental properties. “We’re rolling this out,” she said, “but it’s starting to be inequitable in that not everybody will have the ability to participate.”
Meanwhile, drug reformers are watching closely for the expected introduction of a measure that would decriminalize possession of all drugs. It’s expected that measure could be unveiled as soon as this week.