2015 is going to be a big year in marijuana policy and politics. But the most provocative question in pot has yet to be heard in Olympia, or even debated much: legalizing home growing.
Seattle Democrat Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the Legislature’s senior stateswoman on marijuana, proposes allowing six-plant home grows for everyone over 21 years old as part of her omnibus marijuana reform bill. Kohl-Welles’ reasoning goes something like this: All other states that have legalized recreational marijuana (Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and District of Columbia) allow home grows. And if the Legislature is going to fold the unregulated medical pot into the highly regulated recreational market, home grows would be a kind of relief valve for market pressure.
Her bill is big, complex and thoughtful. But it has not even been scheduled for a hearing in the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, chaired by Spokane Republican Michael Baumgartner. His office didn’t respond to my call.
He should, because the question of home growing is a good one. On the pro side, I’d list the fact that marijuana is already a home-grow product, just not a legal one. A national drug survey estimated that 3.9 percent of marijuana users grow their own. Acknowledging that fact would bring marijuana in line with once-banned home beer brewing, and recognize that industrious adults like to make their own adult intoxicants.
Rick Steves, the travel guru and legalization advocate, summed up the libertarian take during the 2012 legalization campaign:
“I’m a hardworking, churchgoing, child-raising, taxpaying citizen. If I want to go home and smoke a joint and stare at the fireplace for two hours, that’s my civil liberty.”
Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Executive Director Mitch Barker said cops just want “bright lines” to enforce, so the current marijuana regulation mess is the opposite of helpful. When I asked Barker about home grows, he essentially shrugged. They’re not ideal, said Barker, because it adds a complication. But police simply want clarity on the law, he said.
On the con side of the home-grow argument is the fact that voters said yes to marijuana, but with regulations. The Seattle Times editorial board was a big and early supporter of legalization, but it has emphasized the need for regulations, especially to limit youth access. Opening up home grows could mean simply a lot more pot, with unexpected costs.
State Sen. Ann Rivers, the Republican’s leader on marijuana issues, channeled that concern. Home grows would “make [Initiative 502] look like the nose under the tent flap,” said Rivers, R-La Center. “502 had tight regulation. This is about allowing everyone to grow.” She said the GOP majority in the Senate probably wouldn’t go for it.
Personally, I’m with Rick Steves on this. The state has decided to treat marijuana like alcohol. Small home grows would be as much of a threat to pot regulations as a home brewer is to Red Hook. Home growing is already here, so it’s time to acknowledge the obvious.
What do you think?