Jerry Cornfield

(Washington State Standard) A dozen years after Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana sales, state lawmakers want to make it possible to grow cannabis plants at home without breaking the law.

A House panel on Monday advanced legislation allowing a person 21 years or older to legally cultivate up to four plants with a maximum of 10 per household.

The House Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee approved House Bill 2194 after replacing originally proposed limits of six plants for an individual and 15 for a housing unit with multiple adult residents.

Under the bill, it would be a civil infraction for a person who is not a registered medical patient to grow more than four but fewer than 11 plants. One found with 11 or more plants could face a felony charge with penalties of up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

“This is a long time coming,” said Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Bothell, the bill’s prime sponsor. “It really does emphasize that it is for personal use only. Many other states have done it. It is time for us to do it.”

Is this the year?

Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana use for adults in 2012, retail stores opened in 2014 and the year after that came a merging of recreational and medical marijuana industries under one regulatory scheme.

State law allows registered medical marijuana patients to grow a limited number of plants for personal use. The maximum is presumed to be six, although a health care practitioner can authorize up to 15 plants for a person.

More than a dozen states, including Oregon, allow residents to legally grow a few plants at home. Washington is not among them, though it’s not for lack of interest.

Since 2017, there have been studies, bills and hearings on loosening home-grow rules in Washington but no proposal has made it to the floor of either chamber in the Legislature.

Kloba’s offering last session, House Bill 1614, lapsed in the House Appropriations Committee due to a blend of lawmakers’ disinterest and discomfort with the proposal.

A few legislators worried cannabis tax revenues might drop if too many folks started growing at home. Marijuana retailers didn’t see it as a threat, Kloba said at the time.

Washington CannaBusiness Association, which represents licensed and regulated cannabis businesses, is officially neutral on the proposal. Its members are tuned in to legislation aimed at ensuring a safe, quality-controlled market that keeps products out of the hands of kids, a spokesman said.

In December 2022, the state’s Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force, whose members spent two years studying how best to get more Black and Latino residents involved in the industry, endorsed allowing home grows of six plants per adult and 15 plants per household.

Their report cited FBI data that Black and Latino individuals are much more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be arrested for growing marijuana in line with those amounts.

“Legalizing residential cannabis cultivation for recreational use would reduce arrests and felony convictions that disproportionately harm Black people, while also potentially increasing social equity applicant eligibility,” the task force concluded.

On Monday, Rep. Kristine Reeves, D-Federal Way, who opposed the latest bill, said there were “a lot of unanswered questions” with it.

She worried how it might affect those living in hotels and motels and if it would further burden already overstretched law enforcement agencies. She also voiced concerns of “undue impact” on minority residents in her 30th Legislative District.

Republican Rep. Kelly Chambers of Puyallup echoed the sentiment, saying the bill would open a Pandora’s box of issues for communities.

The final committee vote on HB 2194 was 7-4 with five Democrats and two Republicans supporting the bill and three Republicans and one Democrat opposed.

The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.