Bill allowing homegrown marijuana gains momentum in Washington State Legislature

Don Skakie, co-founder of Homegrow Washington, holds a marijuana plant grown in a Seattle house for medicinal use on Feb. 1. The Washington Legislature is debating whether to legalize home-growing marijuana for recreational use.  (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times )

Bill allowing homegrown marijuana gains momentum in Washington state Legislature

Eight years ago, Washington staked a claim as the first state, along with Colorado, to legalize recreational marijuana use. More than a dozen states have since followed suit.

But Washington’s status as a legalization pioneer has lagged in one respect: It remains a felony to grow marijuana for recreational use at home.

A proposal advancing in the state Legislature would change that, allowing adults 21 years and older to grow up to six marijuana plants, with no more than 15 plants allowed in any household.

House Bill 1019 passed out of a legislative committee last month with bipartisan support and is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee.

The measure has been championed by civil liberties and equity activists — and by the legal marijuana industry, which hopes homegrown cannabis could expand consumer interest much like home beer brewing helped spur the microbrewery explosion.

“We do not see it as being competition,” said Lara Kaminsky, government affairs liaison with The Cannabis Alliance, a nonprofit marijuana trade association. “We saw how in the beer industry when people started to brew at home, they became more sophisticated consumers.”

The bill also has been quietly buoyed by a lobbying push from a corporate giant: Scotts Miracle-Gro, known for its ubiquitous green-labeled fertilizers and other lawn and garden products lining Home Depot aisles.

Opponents cite risks

Opponents include substance-abuse-prevention and law-enforcement groups. They worry HB 1019 could expand youth access to the drug and cause nuisances for neighborhoods hit by the skunky, wafting odor of the plants.

“I don’t think this is good public policy,” said Priscilla Lisicich, executive director of Safe Streets, a Tacoma-based public safety nonprofit. She said there is a risk that some homegrown marijuana could fuel black-market drug sales and further normalize use among adolescents.

Lisicich and other critics also pointed out the Legislature has repeatedly shortchanged funding for prevention and education programs that was promised as part of marijuana legalization.

At a public hearing on the bill, James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, cautioned enforcement would be “fairly rare” because most violations of the home-grow bill’s limits would only be apparent if police were able to enter homes.

But supporters argue those objections are overblown and that Washington should follow other states in winding down the war on drugs, particularly with marijuana, citing disproportionate drug arrests and enforcement against people of color.

Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, the prime sponsor of HB 1019, calls herself an “accidental tourist” when it comes to cannabis policy.

As former state PTA legislative director, Kloba takes seriously the goal of minimizing risks for children. But she said allowing home growing is a logical next step for Washington.

More than a dozen other states have legalized recreational marijuana since 2012, when Washington’s landmark Initiative 502 was approved by voters. With the exception of Washington and Illinois, all those legal-marijuana states allow people to grow marijuana at home in addition to retail sales.

Fertilizer giant gets involved

Garnett’s testimony was part of the lobbying effort by Scotts, the Marysville, Ohio-based lawn and garden company.

The expansion of legal marijuana cultivation in the U.S. has helped bring record-setting profits for Scotts since it bought a Vancouver, Washington, hydroponics company, Sunlight Supply, for $450 million in 2018.

“It falls within the wheelhouse of what Scotts is known for, which is making plants grow, and grow healthy,” said Michael Diamond, Scotts’ West Coast manager of government affairs.

Through a subsidiary, Scotts now sells all the supplies needed for indoor cannabis growing, including lights, ventilation, air filters and hydroponics. That market, plus the coronavirus pandemic stranding people at home, contributed to a record year for the company, which boosted its revenue 31% to $4.13 billion in fiscal year 2020, according to a report by Columbus Business First.