The state gets an earful on legalizing home-grown marijuana

At a hearing in Olympia, regulators took comments from the public. They will report to lawmakers.

A Southern California grower grows plants in his backyard, seen here Feb. 10. (Matt Masin/The Orange County Register via AP)

A Southern California grower grows plants in his backyard, seen here Feb. 10. (Matt Masin/The Orange County Register via AP)

OLYMPIA — Allowing folks to cultivate a little pot at home is a divisive subject among those engaged in the state’s legal marijuana industry, a regulatory panel learned Wednesday.

Growers, retailers, financiers and consumers voiced support, opposition and caution about lifting the state’s ban on home grows in a public hearing conducted by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.

The three-member panel is studying the idea at the behest of the Legislature. Its recommendations are due by Dec. 1.

Many of the nearly three dozen people who testified Wednesday endorsed legalizing home grows but opposed options under study because they impose too many regulations or give cities and counties too much power to ban them even if made legal.

Several speakers said they use marijuana for medical reasons and want to grow at home. But they opposed the approaches under consideration out of fear they would, in the words of 74-year-old Diane Vasarkovy of Thurston County, be “policed in my own garden.”

As of Wednesday roughly 500 people had submitted written comments spanning a wide divide of opinion.

“Home grows should continue to be prohibited. The public passed the law with certain strict boundaries in place to protect the public. Eliminating these boundaries erodes these protections,” Sharice Lee, an intervention specialist at two high schools in Vancouver, wrote in an email.

Joel Colvos wrote he doesn’t use marijuana but it “seems silly to have legalized selling it but not being able to grow some at home. It’s just a plant. This is like legalizing tomatoes at the store but not allowing them to be grown at home. Please legalize! “

Washington voters in 2012 legalized marijuana use for adults 21 years and older. And a year ago the state merged its recreational and medical marijuana industries under one regulatory scheme.

However, of the eight states with legal markets for growing and selling marijuana for recreational use, Washington is the only one where home grows are not allowed.

Some in Washington voted against the initiative in 2012 because it did not expressly permit home grows, said Bailey Hirschberg,director of the Thurston County branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

One of the state agency’s tasks in the study is to figure out if the state can allow home grows without breaching guidelines in the Cole memo issued in August 2013 by the Department of Justice. Its author was then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

In states where growing and selling marijuana is legalized, federal authorities said they want strict regulations tracing the product from seed to sale to prevent its diversion out of state or into the hands of drug dealers and cartels for illegal distribution. The memo also requires strong enforcement to prevent minors from getting access to marijuana.

Three options are getting looked at in the study of which two would allow home grows and one would not.

Under the first option, a household would need a permit for a home grow and would be limited to four plants. The state would regulate it like a large scale grower. All plants would need to be entered into the state traceability system and law enforcement could seize and destroy plants if they discover a household growing more than four plants.

The second option limits a household to four plants as well but does not require them to be entered into the state’s traceability system. While it contains the same requirements as the first option for such things as security and preventing minors from getting access to marijuana, it allows local jurisdictions to enact more restrictive rules including outright prohibitions.

The third option would ban home grows while preserving the ability of patients to grow marijuana for medical use. Current law allows a medical patient to have up to six plants if they have authorization from a medical provider, or up to 15 plants if they register with the state Department of Health Medical Marijuana Authorization Database and have a recognition card.

Jessica Johnson of Numerica Credit Union, a firm which serves marijuana businesses in Eastern Washington, endorsed that one, saying it ensures Washington does not run afoul of the Cole memo.

If home grows are allowed, she told the board, “it is our belief it would stretch enforcement resources beyond capacity and result in a loss of integrity in the strength of the state’s regulatory framework.”

Some in the marijuana industry fretted about a potential drop in customers; others didn’t. Several said it didn’t make sense to subject a household with four plants to the same regulatory oversight as one of their operations.

And Kevin Oliver, a licensed marijuana producer, pointed out the irony that he can’t do at home what he does at work.

“I grow tons of it but I can’t grow any of it in my own house,” he said.

Wednesday was the lone public hearing but comments will be accepted in writing or by email to rules@lcb.wa.gov until Oct. 11.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield @herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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