Marijuana plants seen from above. Sound Publishing file photo

Will Washingtonians be able to grow their own weed?

When Initiative 502, which legalized a recreational market for marijuana, was approved by voters in 2012, it did not include allowances for non-medical patients to grow their own at home.

In contrast, Colorado, which legalized marijuana at the same time, let residents grow up to 99 plants. This was later reduced to 12 plants.

Of the eight states and Washington, D.C. that have legalized weed, Washington remains the only one that doesn’t allow non-medical residents to grow their own marijuana.

That could change during the next legislative session as state lawmakers directed the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to develop recommendations for allowing homegrown marijuana after a piece of legislation passed through the House of Representatives.

This in itself marks a step forward said Kevin Oliver, spokesperson for NORML, an organization that seeks to legalize marijuana nationally.

“It did look pretty good,” he said. “Before, in years prior, we’d never even been able to get it out of committee.”

Oliver said in his view, the reason why other states allowed homegrow provisions was because by the time the law was passed and got to regulators and tax consultants, homegrow was already established, meaning there was no regulatory authority.

I-502 was also proposed to the voters of the state, so the Legislature could not make changes to it for two years after it passed.

A homegrow provision was also not included because polling indicated it would lower the likelihood of the bill passing with enough of a majority to give lawmakers a clear mandate, Oliver said.

Letting residents grow their own marijuana has run into opposition from other industry groups, including the Washington CannaBusiness Association, as documented by the Everett Herald.

They cited concerns over a federal crackdown. The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug on par with heroin. Even methamphetamine is considered a Schedule 2 drug, meaning there are recognized medical uses for it, and it can be prescribed.

In 2013, Obama’s former Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a notice called the Cole Memo where he outlined federal expectations for states with legal marijuana markets.

These included mandating the states prevent marijuana from being diverted to minors and criminal enterprises, among other stipulations.

This is frequently cited by groups opposed to homegrown marijuana.

Oliver said he supports letting people grow their own marijuana even though he is also in the industry.

“I’m a licensed I-502 producer and processor too, and I support the rights of individuals to grow their own marijuana,” he said.

The LCB was to hold a public hearing on Oct. 4 about their recommendations to the Legislature that will be presented in December.

The agency outlined three ways forward, one of which is to leave the law unchanged.

The other two options include strict regulations.

Of these, the first would give control of regulating home growers to the state. This would include a permit, allowing a maximum of four plants to be grown in a household and security measures to ensure plants couldn’t be accessed by minors.

Police would be able to seize and destroy all plants in a house if there were more than four.

Additionally, all plants would be entered into the state tracing system, where they would be tracked from seed to bud.

The second option would kick regulation responsibilities down to the local municipalities in the state. It would also allow cities and counties to ban homegrown marijuana outright for non-medical patients.

Medical patients in the state are already allowed to grow marijuana for personal use and enter into four-person co-ops.

Brian Oliver, LCB spokesperson, said they would use public testimony, which can be submitted through written comment until Oct. 11, to inform their study they will present to the Legislature.

As for the federal government interfering with small growers, Oliver said he couldn’t think of any instances outside of a major bust in Colorado where the growers had many more plants than allowed and selling them on the black market.

“The guy that’s growing a few plants in his house, no, I don’t think the federal government has an interest or resources to do something like that,” he said.

Senate Bill 5131, which contains the homegrow provisions, could be considered in the 2018 state legislative session.