Pubdate: Wed, 08 Apr 2015
Source: Stranger, The (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Stranger
Author: Brendan Kiley


But That Could Change-If You Care About This Issue, Contact These 
Representatives in Olympia Right Now

A few years ago, my friends Monica and Nate got ahold of a few 
marijuana cuttings, also known as "clones," and planted them in their 
backyards. Neither of their plants grew into the towering, gawky, 
bamboo-like stalks you see in stock news photos of professional 
marijuana grows. Monica pruned hers to grow smaller and bushier, less 
conspicuous, almost ornamental-the bonsai of marijuana. They were 
stupidly easy to grow, both said, no more difficult than tomatoes or 
basil. One year, the wind knocked over Monica's pot planters, 
breaking one and crunching lots of the stems-but they hurtled back to life.

There were only two catches. The first: Their marijuana ended up 
being fairly mild. As another friend with backyard-grow experience 
explained to me, the strong "power-weed" sold by stores and reputable 
dealers requires a strict regiment of light, fertilizer, water, 
filtration, and other pampering. It's possible to grow 
low-maintenance marijuana just about anywhere-but the backyard 
version doesn't have the same intoxicating intensity.

That was just fine for Monica, who, like me, finds most 
commercial-grade pot too strong for her taste. (Hers was just about 
perfect.) For some users, a mild, light, easy-to-grow plant that is 
pleasant to look at and doesn't send you around the bend is 
ideal-like a soothing glass of wine instead of high-octane liquor.

The second catch is trickier: Even though marijuana is now legal in 
Washington State, growing a few plants of your own is still a felony.

Why can't we grow our own marijuana? And by "we," I mean any 
Washington State resident over the age of 21 who might want to try 
cultivating a small marijuana patch?

For reasons medical, recreational, or horticultural, Oregon allows 
adults over the age of 21 to grow four plants. Alaska, Colorado, and 
Washington, DC, allow six, with some restrictions on how many plants 
can be mature and flowering at any given time. This marijuana isn't 
for selling. Just for tending, sharing, or admiring from a distance. 
And, despite what some legislators down in Olympia are saying these 
days, it doesn't seem to be causing anybody any serious problems.

Washington is the only legal-marijuana jurisdiction in the country 
that bans small-scale home cultivation for personal use-which is 
bizarre. We're a state full of gardeners and DIYers who are able to 
brew our own beer, ferment our own wine, and even grow our own 
tobacco if we want to (though this is a lousy climate for it).

Why not pot?

Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational market in Washington 
State, did not include home growing. Alison Holcomb, the ACLU 
attorney who largely wrote I-502, says it was written conservatively 
to broaden its voter appeal and to minimize any possibility of 
federal intervention. The polling numbers for the bill were already 
tight, she says, and the drafters of 502 thought adding a home-grow 
provision would be an unnecessary risk. She thought those kinds of 
issues would get ironed out in subsequent years-like this year.

Now is the time.

Washington State, like Colorado, is fine-tuning its marijuana laws 
right now. One of the stronger-looking bills in Olympia this 
legislative season is Senate Bill 5052, the controversially named 
"patient protection act" (some say it should be called the "get rid 
of medical marijuana act"), which passed the senate back in February 
and is now roiling in the house of representatives.

Several stories have been written about 5052 already, but to 
summarize: The bill, championed by Republican senator Ann Rivers, 
would consolidate the medical marijuana market into the hands of 
recreational businesses, to the anguish of some medical marijuana 
advocates. Rivers is getting strong support from recreational 
marijuana entrepreneurs and a few deep-pocketed investors at the 
Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA).

Supporters of the bill say it's about safety, quality control, and a 
simplified tax structure-reining in a chaotic and less regulated 
medical marijuana marketplace, subjecting medical marijuana to the 
same testing and labeling standards as recreational marijuana, and 
creating a registry of pot-growing patients so the state can keep 
track of what's going on.

The registry issue is a hot spot of contention. It was originally 
mandatory in the bill's wording, but that was challenged and changed 
during 5052's stormy cruise through the senate. Now the registry is 
technically voluntary, but 5052 critics such as Democratic 
representative Brian Blake say that word is a smoke screen. "They're 
calling it a voluntary registry," he said, "but I find it so coercive 
that it doesn't meet my test... you don't get the same tax breaks and 
legal protections [from law enforcement] unless you agree to be registered."

Some opponents of 5052 say the bill is an attempt to concentrate a 
new and potentially enormous industry, with potentially enormous 
profits, into the hands of the few people who managed to get 
recreational licenses. As of March 15, the Washington State Liquor 
Control Board listed 135 active retail licenses selling to a state 
population of seven million. (For comparison, by the end of 2014, 
Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division had issued more than 322 
retail licenses within a state population of only 5.4 million. 
Current Washington law caps the number of possible retail licenses at 
334. Colorado does not have a cap.)

Representative Blake says he doesn't think recreational stores need 
to go after the medical market to survive. "I think there's an 
organized effort to consolidate," he said. "And I'm not sure that's 
necessary for the 502 businesses to be successful."

There's some disagreement about how deeply the Washington 
CannaBusiness Association was involved in writing Senator Rivers's 
bill. In an e-mail last week, Senator Rivers downplayed their role, 
telling me it was "minimal." But back in February, WACA director 
Vicki Christophersen told the Daily Beast that her organization 
worked closely with Senator Rivers, and that the senator "took a lot 
of our suggestions."

Legislators in Olympia, such as Democratic senator Jeanne 
Kohl-Welles, think the connection is unambiguous. "The CannaBusiness 
Association helped write Senator Rivers's bill and has really been 
pushing it and has been comprised of wealthy individuals," she said. 
Republican representative Cary Condotta was more blunt: "Senator 
Rivers is controlling this issue and is working directly for the 
industry... they have a lot of lobbyists working on it. Some say up 
to 10 or 12, and I've seen six. Most major bills, you get a couple-three."

Either way, WACA clearly wants recreational businesses to have a lock 
on Washington's marijuana. WACA's enrollment form requires potential 
members to sign a declaration of principles. Principle number one: 
"All cannabis (medical and recreational) must be produced, processed, 
and sold through the i502 system... No non-i502 regulated entities or 
individuals should be allowed to produce, process, or sell cannabis."

Which brings us back to those small-scale home grows.

During a floor debate on February 13, as 5052 was pushing its way out 
of the senate and toward the house, Senator Kohl-Welles proposed a 
simple amendment: People over 21 in Washington-just like the people 
in Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, and DC-should be allowed to grow a few 
plants of their own. Six, to be exact.

Senator Rivers quickly batted that amendment aside, saying: "My 
colleagues in Colorado, when asked about their cannabis system, their 
marijuana system, what one thing they would change-universally they 
say, 'Do not. Allow. Home grows.' It is a genie you cannot get back 
in the bottle. It is difficult to regulate. They say over and over, 
'Don't go there, don't go there, we wish we hadn't.'"

Moments after Senator Rivers said that, the amendment to allow home 
grows was struck down. The bill is now in the house, where 
representatives have another chance to add a home-grow amendment. 
Representative Cary Condotta, legislators say, is likely to introduce 
some amendments soon. (If you care about this issue, write to him 
right now at  And write to everyone else at 
the bottom of this article, too.)

Curious about this scourge of home grows that Senator Rivers says 
Colorado's leaders "universally" regret, I called and e-mailed 
Colorado officials and reporters. I couldn't find a single person who 
was concerned about them. Colorado senator Kevin Lundgren agrees, 
saying he hasn't heard any concern about them among his colleagues.

"Honestly, I have not heard anything about home grows," said Daria 
Serna of Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division. They occasionally 
come up in discussions about rental properties, she said, but she 
thinks that's the landlords' problem for not prohibiting home grows 
in their contracts. Other than that, she said, "I just have not seen 
anything about it."

Ricardo Baca, the Denver Post's lead reporter on legalization in 
Colorado, said the same thing. "The home grow hasn't been a major 
issue," he said by e-mail. "It's not something that has been 
revisited all that vocally in city council or the state legislature, 
whereas other issues have been addressed and evaluated as such." The 
current controversy in Denver is whether to limit unlicensed grows to 
a whopping 36 plants. The six-plant grows? Not a problem, he says.

Alison Holcomb likewise says she hasn't seen any data from Colorado 
about small-scale home cultivation being a problem.

Even the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, which might feel like 
home grows threaten its market share, wrote in an e-mail: 
"Representing leaders of the licensed, regulated industry, the 
Chamber can confidently say that home grows for personal use have 
never been a significant 'issue' here in Colorado."

I asked Senator Rivers to name any of her Colorado "colleagues" who 
warned her against a six-plant provision. Her response: "Keep 
digging." I'll take that as a no. (To be fair, she also referred to a 
Brookings Institution analysis of the Colorado law, which mentions 
some "worry" about "homegrowers' potential to skirt the law"-though 
the report presented no evidence of any problems.)

For its part, the Washington CannaBusiness Association neither 
supports nor rejects home grows. "You raise a great question," WACA 
director Christophersen said by e-mail last week when asked for the 
organization's position. She said their first priority is 5052 and 
"ensuring that we have a safe, quality-controlled, and regulated 
marketplace for cannabis... we will use that policy lens in any 
future work we engage in regarding small-scale home cultivation."

Neither King Country prosecutor Dan Satterberg nor King County 
sheriff John Urquhart said they'd be particularly worried about 
small-scale home grows. Both are more concerned with large-scale 
collective gardens. If we reform those correctly, Satterberg said, 
"with the right price points, home grows will be like homemade 
beer-something for the enthusiasts but not competition for the 
licensed, taxed, and regulated retail alcohol system."

So why not add a home-grow amendment to 5052 in the house? Not only 
is there no evidence that it would create problems, Holcomb said, 
"adding a home-grow amendment could solve a lot of problems."

Take the controversial medical marijuana registry, for instance. If 
everybody-medical, recreational, and horticultural-were allowed to 
grow up to six plants, small-scale medical growers wouldn't have to 
worry about being part of a registry. A six-plant limit is also a 
bright line for law enforcement, and a lot easier to parse than the 
technical murk of medical marijuana qualifications. (It wouldn't 
solve the issue for medical growers who want or need more than six 
plants, but it could take some of the pressure off the debate.)

Then, of course, there are the children. Always the children. Never 
mind that the youth of America haven't had much trouble scoring any 
pot (or booze or tobacco or anything else) for the past half 
century-just about everyone in Olympia says their colleagues are 
concerned about "youth access" and whether kids might stumble across 
a home grow.

Which returns us to Monica and her delicate, user-friendly garden 
weed. The pot that kids have access to today-like the pot I had 
access to as a kid-is the "power weed" variety, bred to be as potent 
as possible. That's how smuggling works. One has to develop potent 
drugs, stuffing a bigger high into a smaller volume, maximizing 
profit per ounce while minimizing the risk of getting caught.

Extraordinarily potent drugs cultivate extraordinarily potent tastes. 
As drug prohibition rolls back, it's quite possible that the drugs 
themselves will become milder. Allowing home growers-like home 
brewers-to legally and comfortably produce low-potency intoxicants 
might cultivate a generation with milder tastes.

If young people are going to have access to marijuana-and they 
already do-which kind would you prefer they have access to? The 
powerful stuff sold on the black market and in pot shops? Or Monica's 
mild home-grown?

I know what I'd choose.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom