State pot regulators punt to lawmakers on home grows

Public comments have showed overwhelming support for home growing in Washington, according to the Liquor and Cannabis Board.
Public comments have showed overwhelming support for home growing in Washington, according to the Liquor and Cannabis Board. AP

State lawmakers tasked the Liquor and Cannabis Board with making recommendations on allowing home growing of recreational pot. On Wednesday, the board put the decision back in the Legislature’s lap.

The board recommended any of the three options it studied:

▪ Allowing four plants under strict state rules.

▪ Allowing four plants under city and county control.

▪ Continuing to prohibit home grows.

The agency’s equivocal stance was not surprising to activists.

“I don’t think they wanted anything to do with it in the first place,” said Kevin Oliver, executive director of Washington NORML, the state’s largest marijuana consumer group.

“I suspect they did not take a stance on any one option because they wanted to avoid placing themselves near the center of the inevitable legislative battle that will come,” said John Kingsbury, a longtime medical-marijuana and home-growing advocate.

The board’s 15-page report said the agency initially considered many options but “ultimately dismissed any considerations not consistent with the Cole Memo.”

That 2013 memo, from the federal Department of Justice, has let legalization proceed in eight states as long as they adhere to priorities such as keeping pot from children, cartels and other states.

Agency spokesman Brian Smith said the board did what the Legislature requested — provide recommendations, plural, that it believed would comport with the Cole Memo.

“It was the consensus here that this was the best option,” Smith said. The board’s research into home growing revealed diverse viewpoints, which the report reflected, he said.

Its chief value, Smith said, is the board’s research involving other states and stakeholders, including sheriffs, local government officials and advocates.

Debates in the Legislature are likely to be contentious, with law enforcement opposing home grows, patients and advocates calling for more leniency and the pot industry divided on the issue.

Public comments showed overwhelming support for home growing, according to the board, with 282 pro-home-grow comments and 93 opposing views.

But within the comments supporting home growing there were just 65 that favored the board’s four-plant options. Many who supported home grows wanted more plants and less regulation than the board proposed.

The other seven states with legal pot allow home growing. The Justice Department has not clamped down on any of them. But none allows more than 12 plants.

Oliver saw the board’s report as “neutral,” noting it “didn’t say ‘no’ outright” to home growing.” It also didn’t say home growing would cut deeply into the $854 million in state and local taxes collected since legal sales began in 2014.

Kingsbury, who objects to strict permitting for home grows, also saw some merit in the report.

It found that illegal diversion of homegrown pot, particularly in Colorado, resulted from allowing a high number of plants — 99 in Colorado’s case, reduced to 12 this year by state lawmakers.

He said the patients’ group he’s part of has been clear it will continue to push for legal small-scale, noncommercial, nonpermitted home grows in Washington.