Cannabis Home-Grow to Remain a Felony in WA, Years After Legalization

March 2, 2023

The latest effort to allow Washington State adults to grow cannabis at home has fallen short, pulled from consideration ahead of a planned committee vote on the final day before a key legislative deadline. The move means that, for at least another year, cultivating plants for personal use will likely remain a felony.

Nearly every other US state to have legalized marijuana for adults allows some form of home cultivation, and most advocates nationwide now embrace home cultivation as a key part of cannabis reform. Yet Washington politicians have repeatedly rejected efforts to adopt policies on par with other legal-cannabis states.

Since voters approved one of the nation’s first marijuana-legalization ballot measures in 2012, state lawmakers have introduced multiple bills to allow adults to grow plants for personal use, all to no avail. The first push happened just months after the launch of legal commercial sales, as then-Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D) sponsored of SB 6083 in 2015. Subsequent home-grow bills were introduced by others in 2017, 2019, 2021 and this year.

Rather than outright reject the proposals, legislative leaders have opted to prevent them from even reaching a final vote.

While some of those bills were revived the year following their introduction, during the state’s shorter, even-year legislative sessions, each has stagnated and ultimately expired.

Rather than outright reject the proposals, legislative leaders have opted to prevent them from even reaching a final vote. In the case of the latest bill, HB 1614, from Rep. Shelley Kloba (D), Democrats simply pulled the bill during a House Appropriations Committee meeting on February 24.

“House Bill 1614 is removed from consideration,” announced Rep. Timm Ormsby (D), the committee’s chair, toward the tail end of an all-day hearing. Without further explanation, the panel moved on to the next bill.

Lawmakers most likely pulled the legislation after counting the votes behind closed doors and concluding it would not pass. Another panel, the House Gaming and Regulated Substances Committee, had already once delayed a scheduled vote on HB 1614—a move that Kloba, who co-chairs that committee, explained was the result of not having secured enough votes.

“My co-chair and I, Chair Wylie, we are the ones who set the agenda,” Rep. Kloba said in a recent phone interview with Marijuana Moment, referring to Rep. Sharon Wylie (D). “And if I don’t have the votes, we won’t take the vote.”

Ultimately the measure advanced out of that committee on a 7–4 vote that fell mostly along party lines. It then proceeded to the House Appropriations Committee, where it stalled.

By failing to clear its fiscal committee by February 24, the measure is no longer eligible to proceed this legislative session. What’s more, without a vote being held, constituents can’t definitively tell where lawmakers stand on the issue.

Kloba’s office did not respond to multiple emails about her bill’s fate or what the future of home grow in Washington might be. But in the interview earlier in February, the lawmaker, who introduced a similar home-grow bill in 2019, said the experience has been “a rollercoaster.”

The state’s Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force had issued a final report recommending the legalization of up to six plants. Momentum seemed to be building.

“We started out with a great deal of hope,” she explained, “Like, OK, everybody knows this issue, we’ve hashed it out, it’s ripe. Let’s do this.” Barely a month earlier, in December 2022, the state’s Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force had issued a final report recommending the legalization of up to six plants, which Kloba’s legislation would have allowed. Momentum seemed to be building.

Moreover, some of the state’s more persistent skeptics of home grow seemed to have dialed back their historical opposition. Kloba said she felt as though groups that had previously advised against the policy change—including law enforcement representatives and officials at the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB)—may be slowly warming to the idea.

Opposition from WSLCB was nonexistent this year, Kloba said, perhaps because of a provision that specified that home-grown marijuana would fall outside their purview. On top of that, the pushback from a spokeswoman for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs struck Kloba as more restrained than usual.

“Unlike past years, whereas they were just kind of straight-up no, this year, she kind of buried the lede,” the lawmaker said. “She said, ‘While we’re not in favor of this bill, here are some things we think you could do that would make the bill stronger.’”

“I thought that alone was significant,” Kloba noted.

But any softening of opposition this year didn’t translate to movement to a floor vote. Kloba, who took office in 2017, described a difficult process of trying to win over colleagues through further revisions to her bill without alienating others.

“You’re trying to walk a line to satisfy some competing perspectives on it. The balancing act continues.”

Some lawmakers, for example, wanted to see additional guardrails—such as limits on where cannabis could be grown and stored, as well as restrictions around childcare facilities and foster homes. But adding such rules, Kloba said, risked losing support from colleagues who worried the rules were too vague or would disproportionately penalize groups, such as people of color, who have already borne the brunt of the drug war.

“You’re trying to walk a line to satisfy some competing perspectives on it,” the lawmaker said. “You try to do your best. The balancing act continues.”

At one point this session, Kloba said, she considered simply replacing her new bill’s language with text from two years ago.

By some measures, Kloba’s bill this year actually fared worse than her earlier legislation, HB 1019. While that measure also passed out of the Gaming and Regulated Substances Committee only to stall in Appropriations, it cleared the first committee a month earlier in the session and was introduced with 16 sponsors, compared to HB 1614’s nine this year.

After repeated failures to adopt the policy change, home-grow advocates in Washington were disappointed but not surprised to see the latest bill pulled.

“Lucy has once again yanked the football away from in front of Charlie Brown,” Don Skakie of Homegrow Washington wrote on the group’s Facebook page on February 27.

Another of Homegrow Washington’s leaders, John Kingsbury, told Marijuana Moment in 2020, when discussing the earlier bill, that the obstacle to getting a home-grow measure through the legislature wasn’t building majority support but rather winning over “key legislators in key positions.”

“Our problem year after year has been getting hearings,” he said, “not getting support.”

Kingsbury said the group at one point looked into running a citizen ballot initiative on the issue, but concluded the costs were prohibitive.

“We calculated we could run an initiative for home growing for about $200K, and that did not take into account what a post-signature PR effort might involve,” he said in an email at the time. “Most of the $200K would go to signature-gatherers, because it would be impossible to collect the number of signatures required with volunteers alone.”

Skakie estimated that the cost would be closer to $350,000. “While I do believe enough people in Washington State would support it if given the opportunity to sign such an initiative,” he said, “I do not believe this issue would have that degree of unpaid volunteer support.”

“Given the amount of effort and money and everything that goes into an initiative campaign, I wouldn’t do it unless I knew the public was clamoring for it.”

Asked her thoughts on running legislation that would put home cultivation on the state ballot, Kloba replied that it’s a pathway she’s not seriously considering.

“I think given the amount of effort and money and everything that goes into an initiative campaign, I wouldn’t do it unless I knew the public was clamoring for it,” she said. “I think there’s folks who really want it, and then I think there’s folks who probably couldn’t be bothered one way or another.”

Washington already allows registered medical patients to grow six plants at home, or up to 15 with a health professional’s recommendation.

In its present form, HB 1614 would make it legal for people 21 and older to grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum of 15 per household. Plants would need to be labeled, grown out of public view and not “readily smelled” outside the premises.

No license would be necessary for adults to grow up to the six-plant limit, although each plant would need to be labeled with the grower’s name, date of birth and address, as well as when it was planted. Containers of more than 1 ounce of home-grown marijuana would need to be labeled with that information plus the date the cannabis was harvested.

Landlords could prohibit homegrow by renters and lessees under the bill. The legislation would make it a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $500, if a minor uses or obtains a grower’s marijuana, unless the products were stored in a secured area or container. If a minor is involved in a DUI after consuming unsecured cannabis, the grower would face a fine of up to $750.

One drug policy bill that did clear last week’s legislative deadline was Senate Bill 5263, which began the session as legislation to legalize psilocybin services for adults 21 and older. An amendment earlier this month from Rep. Karen Keiser (D), however, gutted the legislation’s legalization provisions. In its current form, the measure would instead establish a task force to study the issue.

A number of other cannabis and drug policy reform bills are also moving forward in Washington State, including a measures to allow interstate cannabis commerce.

Meanwhile, on the Senate floor last week, lawmakers approved a bill, SB 5123, that would protect most job candidates in the state from being discriminated against simply for using marijuana. The legislation notes that most drug tests detect only THC metabolites, which can remain in a person’s system for weeks after using cannabis.

The protection would apply only to pre-employment drug tests. Workers could still be fired for a positive cannabis test that occurs after they’re hired.

Lawmakers also face an impending deadline to replace Washington’s law against drug possession before it expires on July 1. Following a state Supreme Court decision in February 2021 that invalidated the state’s felony law against drug possession, lawmakers enacted a temporary criminalization policy that reclassified possession as a gross misdemeanor.



Photograph by My 420 Tours via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

Ben Adlin

Ben is a writer and editor covering cannabis since 2011, including as a senior news editor for Leafly. He is currently senior editor at Marijuana Moment. He lives in Seattle.

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