The state of Washington will continue to sniff around your garden for at least another year, now that a proposal to decriminalize growing up to six cannabis plants at home has died.
House Bill 1019 seemed like an easy slam-dunk — virtually every other state that has legalized pot has also allowed people to grow small amounts of weed — but it looks like the bill has fizzled in a committee for the year with no vote scheduled.
“I think it is fair to say that we were all caught of guard by the lack of a vote,” says John Kingsbury, who has been trying for years to get the state to relax penalties for growing your own plants.
Currently, it’s a felony in Washington to grow small amounts of cannabis, unless you have a medical exemption, and it will probably not shock you to learn that Black people are more likely than whites to be arrested for violating weed laws.
So in a year when equity is a legislative priority, what’s the deal, Olympia? Why no vote?
“There’s a lot of old-school long-term legislators who grew up with Reefer Madness,” says Don Skakie, a cofounder of Homegrow Washington. “They just don’t like marijuana.”
But like it or not, there’s a clear need, says Kingsbury. “Legislators are starting to realize we don’t really have a medical system.” As anyone who's navigated the American medical system knows, it can be expensive, time-consuming, and for some people downright impossible to see a doctor; making it easier to grow your own medicine (or medicine for a family member) would provide at least some relief.
The current regulated system is “a great producer of revenue for the state,” says Skakie. “But where is the win for the little guy that wants to have some control over what people are taking into their body?” Commercially-available pot is grown at a massive scale, he says, often with pesticides that “a lot of people don’t want on their product or to take into their body.”
Alas, those arguments just weren’t enough to generate momentum for HB 1019. “With this session being held remotely we are focusing our efforts on four main categories,” writes Rep. Shelley Kloba, the bill’s primary sponsor. Those categories: “COVID-19 relief, economic relief, racial equity, and climate change. HB 1019 did not fit neatly into one of these four categories and was not considered a high enough priority.”
“It seems like it’s never time for home grow,” Skakie sighs when asked for his reaction. But, he quickly added, he’s not giving up. “It’s not a defeat. We’re just at a red light for now. It will come back next session.”
Kloba agreed with that prediction, and noted that the bill made it to committee this year in far less time than similar legislation had taken in previous years. She doesn’t see a need for any changes in the bill as written.
“I plan on continuing to advocate for the bill next year in its current form,” she writes.
So what will change next year? Well, both Kingsbury and Skakie have placed new emphasis on building a coalition of supporters. For a long time, Kingsbury says, the decriminalization effort has been “Don and I and a website and a Facebook page.” Now, they’re working on outreach to justice and healthcare groups — and also enjoying the support of an unexpected new ally in the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, which threw its support behind the bill. (Scotts bought a Washington-based hydroponics company a few years ago.)
Meanwhile, other marijuana reforms are still in the works in Washington, such as HB 1105, which would extend additional legal protections to patients who grow their own plants. Then there’s HB 1443, which would establish guidance for the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to ensure that licenses are being issued in a way that meets social equity criteria. (In other words, taking steps to make sure not all state-approved growers are white.) Both bills have advanced further than HB 1019, and are awaiting a vote in senate committees.
With any luck, home-grow legislation will follow in the footsteps of those bills, proceeding to a vote next year at the earliest. But while we wait for legalization, Kloba writes, “Washingtonians who are interested in growing their own cannabis will have to wait another year,” a wait that could mean life-changing harm for some citizens: “Potentially, someone could be charged with a felony for growing a plant that can be easily purchased.”
For their part, Kingsbury and Skakie will be scrambling to amass more support over the next few months and encouraging anyone interested in decriminalization to reach out through the Homegrow Washington website.
“This is such a heavy lift that this is what it’s going to take — bringing on all those voices,” Kinsbury says. “I will respond to each and every person that contacts me.”