A Walla Walla Republican thinks it should be legal to grow marijuana at home

Cannabis flower at Botanica Seattle's headquarters and production facility on March 12, 2017. A bill in the Legislature would allow home-growing of pot. (Photo by Matt Mills McKnight/Crosscut)

If pot is legal in Washington, what’s wrong with planting some marijuana seeds at home?

That’s what State Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, says in support of her bill to allow a person 21 or older to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. The bill would allow up to 15 plants in “a single housing unit” if three or more people grow marijuana there.

Currently, purely recreational marijuana is not allowed to be grown in Washington’s homes. Medical marijuana can be homegrown in limited amounts. 

Walsh’s bill is a clone of a bill introduced by Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen. Walsh is a fiscal conservative who sometimes leans liberal on social issues, describing herself has having a libertarian streak. She saw Blake’s bill and decided to introduce the same one in the Senate. Both bills have Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. 

Walsh’s bill is scheduled for a Thursday public hearing before the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. The House Commerce & Gaming Committee held a hearing Jan. 21 on Blake’s bill.

Marijuana legislation is frequently bipartisan in Olympia, with both sides pointing out that 57 percent of Washingtonians approved legal recreational marijuana in a 2012 initiative.

Walsh and Blake noted that other states allow homegrown recreational marijuana. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, D.C., allow people to grow three to 12 marijuana plants at their homes for recreational use.

Blake said, “Washington allows home-brewing, home wine-making. This is the same.”

He expects enforcement of the proposed six-plant threshold would be limited, with police officers only responding to complaints rather than actively seeking out home-growing in excess of six plants. He noted law enforcement currently does not go out its way to make sure home-brewing and home wine-making stay within legal limits — instead merely responding to complaints. 

“We’re not asking for the moon,” Walsh said.

She said that allowing homegrown marijuana will help Washington compete against pot grown by criminals by cutting back on incentives to seek out black-market pot. For the past few years, the state government, including the Legislature, have been conscious that legal marijuana competes against illegal marijuana, and has taken measures to keep criminals from gaining any financial advantages over legal pot. Washington’s 37 percent sales tax on legal pot has been designed to hit a sweet pot in which the state collects as much money as it can without driving people to look for black-market marijuana. 

Washington Department of Revenue figures show marijuana-related taxes raised almost $65 million in fiscal 2013-2015, $165 million in fiscal 2016, and $301 million in fiscal 2017 — with more than $700 million predicted in fiscal 2017-2019, which ends June 30. Washington’s legal pot dealers sold $1.3 billion worth of marijuana in fiscal 2017.

Crosscut attempted to speak with people who grew recreational pot illegally at their homes, but several told an intermediary that they are “too scared” to talk with the media about an action for which they could be arrested.

At the Jan. 21 House hearing, law enforcement interests opposed legalizing homegrown recreational pot.

Chris Thompson of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board told the House commerce committee, “We have concerns that homegrown marijuana on a wide scale could provide cover for illicit grows.” Steve Strachan of the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs echoed that concern, saying, “There’s a problem in our state with large illicit grows.”

The Washington State Patrol’s Monica Alexander said, “It is extremely difficult to go into someone’s home just to see if they limited their marijuana plants to six.”

Bailey Hirschburg of the Washington chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws contended that all other states with legalized recreational marijuana have allowed home-growing for recreational use. 

John Kingsbury of Home Grow Washington argued that growing a small amount of pot at home won’t affect the recreational marijuana businesses. “Why,” he asked, “should we be making felons out of people who grow plants that we sell like beer?”

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8