Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board members Russ Hauge, Board Chair Jane Rushford, and Ollie Garrett.
Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board members Russ Hauge, Board Chair Jane Rushford, and Ollie Garrett. Lester Black

When Washington voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, we didn’t give ourselves the right to freely grow pot at home. Colorado, the other state to go legal in 2012, legalized recreational home grows at once, and our prohibition has become only more unusual as six other states have legalized recreational weed-buying since 2012—and with it, recreational weed-growing. Now, if you are a resident of Colorado, California, Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, or the District of Columbia, you can wake up tomorrow morning with a sudden urge to grow a pot plant, and before the sun sets you could legally send a seed on its way to producing god’s green bounty.

But not in Washington—at least, not yet.

Home grow advocates want Washington to treat pot just like wine and beer, which adults are freely able to make at home without government approval. But five years after 502 passed, the closest the state has come to a change is requiring the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), the state agency that regulates recreational cannabis, to study the issue and offer recommendations on home grow regulations by December 1.

The LCB is developing those recommendations right now, but a draft released last month hasn’t won many people over. It included three potential ways to handle home grows:

1. Allow recreational home growing but only under strict regulated control from the state Anyone wishing to grow pot at home would be required to acquire a permit and then track their plants from seed to bud in the state’s traceability system.
2. Allow recreational home growing but give local governments control over how home grows are permitted and tracked. Home growers would still need a permit to grow at home, but their plants would not be tracked into the state’s traceability database.
3. Not allow any recreational home grows.

The public was invited to comment on these proposals at a LCB hearing in Olympia on Wednesday. Over two hours of testimony, most people took issue with the LCB’s insistence on requiring permits and tracking on recreational home grows. Let adults grow a few pot plants in their homes with no approval or permit necessary from the government, advocates said.

Even Randy Simmons, the former director of the LCB who oversaw the state’s roll-out of regulated recreational cannabis, said recreational home growing should be allowed.

“I am in support of home grow as free of regulation as possible,” said Simmons, who saw cannabis help his wife during a fight with breast cancer. Now, he thinks recreational home grow regulations will help move the whole country closer to researching pot’s medical benefits.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the LCB, said the permits and traceability requirement were added as a way to appease the federal government’s Cole Memo. The non-binding memo, issued by the Department of Justice during the Obama administration, tells states that if they experiment with legalization, they must prioritize certain objectives, including keeping pot away from minors, keeping pot within the state, and stopping organized crime from profiting from pot sales.

But some advocates say that home grows pose no threat to the Cole Memo’s objectives, and regularly point to the seven other states that do allow home grows as evidence that the federal government doesn’t object to the policy. Lara Kaminsky, the executive director of the Cannabis Alliance, a trade group of licensed cannabis businesses and advocates, dismissed the idea that allowing home grows would provoke the Trump Administration to take action.

“The threats of the Trump administration… have absolutely nothing to do with whether home grows are permitted,” Kaminsky said in an e-mail. “We find it impossible to believe that in the unlikely scenario that the federal government begins an all-out attack on recreational cannabis states, that Washington, as the only rec state that does not permit rec home grows, will somehow be safe.”

Regardless of the LCB’s recommendations and any public comments, any actual change to the law will need to come from the state legislature.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat representing Seattle that has worked on cannabis legislation in the past, says he hasn’t decided if he supports allowing recreational home grows or not. “I have a deep sense of reservation from a policy point of view about diluting the integrity of safety and quality in the state. I see this as a success story and I don’t want to be casual about going in a direction that really goes against the spirit of the public’s initiative,” Carlyle said.

Carlyle also said if he were to support recreational home grows, he would not support a system that required the LCB to track individual plants in residential homes across the state. “They are not built for that kind of model, it sort of feels like mission creep for an agency,” Carlyle said. “I have some reticence about that.”

Representatives from Numerica Credit Union and Salal Credit Union, two credit unions that are actively banking with the licensed cannabis businesses in Washington, testified against allowing any recreational home grows at all. “Opening the system to an unlimited amount of potential growers, even if the state’s traceability system is used, increases the potential for minors to obtain cannabis,” said Russell Rosendal, the CEO of Salal Credit Union. “It would certainly make us rethink our ability to service the system if the Cole Memo is revoked.”

The Washington CannaBusiness Association, a trade group of licensed cannabis businesses, is also opposed to allowing any recreational home grows. Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the Washington CannaBusiness Association, said the trade group’s members have not been supportive of recommending home grows out of fear of provoking a response from the Trump Administration.

But Kevin Oliver, the executive director of the Washington chapter of NORML, a pot advocacy group, said legalizing home grow wouldn’t provoke a shutdown of the industry and might even increase legal pot grower’s sales. “I am not afraid of home grow as a licensed grower,” said Oliver, who owns a legal cannabis farm in eastern Washington. “I think if we normalize home grow from a consumer’s point of view, we will actually see more consumers.”

Rep. Cary Condotta, a Republican from Wenatchee who introduced a bill during the last legislative session that would have legalized recreational home grows, echoed the same point. “Budweiser doesn't care about home brewing, Chateau St. Michelle doesn't care about home wine-making,” he said. “This isn't something that I think is a threat to producers.”

And John Kingsbury, a longtime advocate for home growing, testified that it’s immoral to deny private residents the right to grow pot when for-profit businesses are able to. “I would also like to say to I-502 licensees who argue that growing cannabis should be legal for you because you’re in it for the money but growing a few plants for me should remain a felony because I have no interest in making money: You need to examine your moral compass.”

After the LCB makes its formal recommendation in December, the ball will be in the Legislature’s court. Rep. Condotta said he will keep pushing for recreational home grows in the next legislative session. Give your legislator a call if you want to see a change.