Agency lays out the pros, cons of legalizing home marijuana

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board does not recommend which path to take for home growing.

OLYMPIA — A new report lays out potential costs and enforcement challenges of letting people legally grow marijuana at home but stops short of suggesting lawmakers abandon the idea.

Staff of the state Liquor and Cannabis Board examined two scenarios for strictly regulating home grows of no more than four plants, and a third option maintaining current rules enabling only cultivation for medical use by individuals and cooperatives.

The 15-page report released Wednesday does not offer a recommendation on which path to take. It does conclude with a list of significant concerns lawmakers will need to address if the state does set about to change the law.

“Any approach that allows for private citizens to grow marijuana at home will carry considerable resource impacts and costs for regulation and enforcement,” they wrote.

There must be clear rules identifying plant limits as well as possessing and obtaining plants, they wrote. A permit should be required for a home grow to enable law enforcement to better investigate potential illegal growing operations, it says.

And they recommend an assessment be done of whether allowing home grows might lead to a reduction in the amount of marijuana-related revenue collected by the state.

Brian Smith, spokesman for the agency, said staff had “several discussions” before deciding to not recommend a specific direction.

“We gave them the three options to consider and we gave them the value of what we learned from our research,” he said. “We believe it was the best course of action.”

Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, who serves on the House committee that oversees the marijuana industry, said the report “made some excellent points” that will need to be considered in the 2018 session.

Washington voters legalized marijuana use for adults 21 years and older in 2012 and the first retail stores opened in July 2014. In 2015, the state enacted laws to merge its recreational and medical marijuana industries under one regulatory scheme. In the first three years, the industry generated $2.67 billion in sales and produced roughly $860 million in taxes to the state, according to the agency.

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. Washington does let authorized patients have limited grows for medical purposes or to be part of a four-member medical marijuana cooperative, as long as they are permitted in the city or county in which it is located.

When lawmakers requested the study, they wanted to know if the state could allow home grows and still comply with provisions in the Cole memo issued by the federal Department of Justice in August 2013.

The memo details what states with legal marijuana industries must do to keep federal authorities from busting marijuana growers, sellers and buyers. It calls for strict regulations, including tracing the product from seed to sale to prevent its diversion out of state, and enforcement strong enough to prevent distribution of marijuana to minors and revenue from sales going to gangs and cartels.

Liquor and Cannabis Board staff researched regulations in states where home grows are legal. That included speaking with their counterparts in Colorado, Oregon and Rhode Island.

Staff also met with civic, health and marijuana industry representatives and with sheriffs of 16 counties who uniformly opposed legalizing home grows. They held a public hearing in October and received comments from 466 people, most of whom supported home grows.

Under the first option, the state would enact and enforce all regulations. A permit would be required for a home grow and each household would be limited to four plants.

All plants would need to be entered into the state traceability system and those with the permit would need to meet requirements for such things as security, preventing youth access and preventing diversion. This approach would enable law enforcement, if they encounter a household with more than four plants, to seize and destroy plants beyond the limit.

Under the second option, statewide standards would be drawn up but cities and counties would be allowed to enact more restrictive rules including prohibiting them.

This option also sets a limit of four plants per household and requires a permit to grow. It does not require plants to be entered into traceability system of the state but does contain requirements for security and preventing minors from getting access to marijuana as in the first option.

The third option is to maintain the current ban on home grows for recreational use.

Kloba, whose district includes part of south Snohomish County, expressed disappointment the study didn’t look deeply into the experience of more states.

“And because so much concern is about how a home grow situation would impact our compliance with the Cole memo, I was disappointed to see that there was no direct information about whether any of the states currently allowing recreational home grows have had contact with the Federal government regarding compliance with the memo,” she said.

A spokesman for the Washington CannaBusiness Association said the study doesn’t contain any information that would persuade the group to end its resistance to legalizing home grows.

“We supported the state doing the study, but our members do not support home grows at this time,” said Aaron Pickus, spokesman for the cannabis group whose 70 members include marijuana retailers, processors and growers. “This is not the time to be loosening regulations while we have a hostile administration in Washington, D.C.”

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

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