Washington State Marijuana Homegrow Proposal Dies In House Committee Without Getting A Vote

February 11, 2024 · Marijuana Moment

Adults in Washington State who grow marijuana at home will continue to face the threat of felony charges for at least another year following a House committee’s failure to advance a cannabis homegrow bill ahead of a legislative deadline this week.

HB 2194 was not called for a vote in the House Appropriations Committee before the February 5 deadline for bills to pass out of fiscal panels, meaning it’s no longer eligible to move forward. The marijuana home cultivation measure passed out of a separate House committee last month, though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they were wary of the change.

Washington was one of the first U.S. states to legalize adult-use marijuana, passing a ballot initiative in 2012. Growing marijuana for personal use without a state medical card, however, remains a Class C felony, carrying up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Legislative efforts to allow personal cultivation stretch back to at least 2015, but so far each has failed.

Lead sponsor Rep. Shelley Kloba (D) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This bill is actually a long time coming,” Kloba told colleagues at last month’s committee hearing. “This is something that many other states have done, and it is time for us to do it, as well.”

If passed, HB 2194 would have allowed adults 21 and older to grow up to four plants per person, with no more than 10 allowed per household.

Among the Democrats to speak out against the proposal was Rep. Kristine Reeves (D), who said last month that there “are a lot of unanswered questions in this bill, with serious unintended consequences.”

Specifically, Reeves said the bill failed to envision how discarded plant material would be disposed of after marijuana was harvested. She recoiled when a commenter suggested it could simply be put in a compost bin, saying, “I don’t know if you’re helping your argument with that correlation, thank you.”

Reeves also noted that despite supporters’ claims that fewer people would face criminal charges if home cultivation were legalized, there was no guarantee that Black and brown people wouldn’t still face discrimination by law enforcement.

“There’s a lot of things that are legal but don’t minimize Black interaction with law enforcement,” she said. “Actually, sitting in line at Taco Bell has resulted in Black people’s deaths. Standing outside of a grocery store smoking a cigarette has resulted in Black people’s deaths.”

Kloba and others who spoke in the bill’s defense said it stands to reason that fewer people overall would have interactions with law enforcement if home marijuana cultivation were legalized, which would likely reduce criminal consequences for Black and brown people, at least in absolute terms. But they acknowledged that even as cannabis arrests have dropped across the board since legalization, racial disparities in enforcement have remained.

On the Republican side, lawmakers raised worries about illicit cannabis sales and access to marijuana by minors. Rep. Greg Cheney (R), asked proponents for “a price estimate of what a single plant would be worth, kind of on the open market…if you were to sell it.”

“We’re not gonna sell it,” responded Don Skakie, a founder of the group Homegrow Washington, which has long supported expanding the state’s law to include provisions for home cultivation.

Speakers during public comment last month overwhelmingly supported the change. Most—including longtime activists, industry members and concerned citizens—said it would allow consumers and hobbyists to come to better understand the plant, ensure specific products can be grown without pesticides and enjoy access to the botanical form of a plant the state already allows to be sold as processed, ready-to-use products.

Some also cited evidence that a sizable portion of Washington’s marijuana products have included banned pesticides, a problem they said has only gotten worse in recent years.

One person who spoke during public comment last month was Pete Holmes, the former Democratic city attorney of Seattle, who helped lead municipal reform around marijuana possession in that city and later backed the ballot push for statewide legalization.

“I want to emphasize that when you’re the first in the country to confront prohibition, there are a lot of unknowns,” Holmes said, “and as a primary sponsor of I-502 back in 2011, I can tell you that we struggled with home grows. It was left out initially of 502 because we wanted to understand better the viability of a newly legal but heavily regulated and taxed cannabis industry.”

“It has since become clear that Washington consumers deserve the right to grow your own for personal use,” he continued, “as many of the states that legalized in the past decade after Washington have already done.”

Law enforcement, which has opposed the proposal in past years, took a neutral stance on the measure. A representative for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said at a hearing last month that the group took no formal position on the bill.

Separately, members of the House Appropriations Committee voted this week to advance a measure from Rep. Lauren Davis (D) that originally would have limited THC potency in retail marijuana products. In its current form, however, it would require cannabis retailers to warn of the possible health risks of high-THC products and express that lawmakers intend to “consider increasing the minimum legal age of sale of high THC cannabis products to age 25.” (Full Story)

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