There's a pot plant growing in Lake City. It sits in a garden bed. On one side of it, three butternut-squash plants spread their vines. On the other side are the purple flowers of an Indian basil variety called tulsi.
If Lake City were in California or Colorado or Oregon or Alaska or Massachusetts or Vermont or Nevada, this lonely pot plant would be completely legal.
But Lake City is in Washington State, the only place in the country that legalized pot without giving adults the right to grow a couple of pot plants at home. Adults in the Evergreen State need to get approval from the state government to legally grow pot at home, and the owner of this pot plant has no such permit.
"I don't need government approval to brew beer at home or make my own wine," the plant's owner said. "Why should I need the state's permission to grow a plant that the state government has made hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue selling?"
My editors have withheld the owner's name to protect them from criminal prosecution.
It's easy to write off the legal risk of growing pot six years after voters legalized the selling of weed in Washington. But the owner of this pot plant in Lake City is certainly exposing themselves to legal risk, according to Sam Mendez, a cannabis attorney and the former director of the University of Washington's Cannabis Law and Policy Project.
"If you are growing a pot plant on your home property, you are violating the law," Mendez said. "If you are growing even a single plant, you are manufacturing a controlled substance and you can face up to five years in prison and a large fine as well."
Mendez said it might be unlikely that the city or county would prosecute the illegal pot grower in question, but that didn't make growing pot at home less illegal.
The only thing that would make this situation legal is if the state legislature changed the misguided law and gave adults the right to grow a couple of pot plants at home. In 2017, the legislature asked the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to study the issue and offer recommendations. The WSLCB provided three options, all of which are terrible.
The first option would give adults the right to grow up to four plants at home, but only if they acquired a permit and tracked those plants with bar codes registered into a state database system. The second option would allow cities and towns to decide how to track homegrown plants while also requiring a permit. The third option is not allowing home grows.
None of these options are palatable to the advocates fighting for the right to grow pot at home.
I wanted to know what the three Democratic state legislators representing Lake City thought about this illicit activity in their district. Senator David Frockt declined to be interviewed for this story, Representative Javier Valdez did not reply to a request for comment, but Representative Gerry Pollet was nice enough to answer my questions.
When I asked Pollet if the person illegally growing a pot plant next to butternut-squash vines in Lake City should be prosecuted, he quickly said no. "No, not unless they are selling or behaving irresponsibly," he told me. "I am sure there are a lot of people with plants at home in my district."
But when asked if he would introduce legislation legalizing what was happening in his district, he wavered, saying the issue needs more study.
"I don't have a position on this policy right this minute. I would generally favor it as long as it doesn't impact the two priority concerns, in particular underage use" and encouraging the black market, Pollet said.
We don't need more study of the issue. It is obvious that adults growing a couple of pot plants at home won't threaten public safety or public health.
There's a reason every other state with legal pot gives adults the right to grow pot at home: It just makes sense.