It seems like it should be an easy question to answer. How many cannabis plants are you legally allowed to cultivate at home if you’re an adult living in Washington or Oregon?
After all, both states approved medical marijuana 19 years ago. Washington has had marijuana legalization for five years and Oregon for three. If any place should have a handle on indoor home cannabis cultivation, it should the Pacific Northwest.
And yet, lawmakers in those states are still treating home grows as restrictively as if people were building homemade nuclear weapons.
Washington Curtails Medical Marijuana Cultivation
In the Evergreen State, if you are a person authorized by a doctor and approved by the state to use marijuana for medical purposes, you may cultivate four cannabis plants in your home and possess six ounces of usable marijuana. That has been reduced from the 15 plants and 24 ounces that existed before recreational legalization.
Wait, you say. Six ounces from four plants? Just 1.5 ounces a plant? Why does the state think medical marijuana patients are such terrible growers? Seems like you could get that from one plant. Doesn’t this just set up patients to have criminal amounts of marijuana at home every time they harvest?
Well, if you’re worried about that, you can choose to sign up for the state’s new medical marijuana registry. If you do, then you’re allowed to cultivate six cannabis plants and possess eight ounces. So, instead of one-and-a-half ounces per plant, now you’re down to one-and-a-third—even more likely to harvest a criminal amount.
Maybe you need a great deal of medical marijuana. Your doctor then can approve you for up to 15 plants and possession of 16 ounces, or one-and-one-fifteenth ounces per plant. That’s right—the more plants Washington approves you to cultivate, the less marijuana you’re legally allowed to harvest off each plant.
Washington Proposes Nation’s Strictest Home Grow Laws
Of course, if you’re healthy, you can’t grow any cannabis plants, because Washington infamously failed to include home grow rights in its 2012 marijuana legalization initiative.
Since then, voters in seven other states and Washington, D.C. have approved marijuana legalization. They all allow adults to cultivate their own cannabis plants at home.
Washington’s cannabis regulators heard many complaints about that. So, they decided to research three other states—Colorado, Oregon and Rhode Island—and take input from the public, law enforcement and public health organizations on how the state might proceed on recognizing an adult’s right to cultivate cannabis at home.
They issued their report outlining three potential scenarios for home growing. However, one scenario is to just keep the prohibition status quo, so there are really only two viable options offered.
In Option 1, the regulators propose a statewide framework for cannabis cultivation that requires an adult to secure a permit from the state granting them the right to cultivate just four cannabis plants, total, in any household. Adults would have to report their cultivation and harvest into a state database. There would be mandatory security requirements to prevent diversion and access by children. Presumably, adults would still be subject to a one-ounce possession limit. Finally, if police discovered you had more than your four legal plants, they can seize all of your plants, not just the excess plants.
In Option 2, they considered the same framework as Option 1, with the added feature of cities and counties either opting-in or opting-out of allowing any home grow permits.
We need only look at the institution of moratoria and bans on medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational marijuana retailers to know how that will turn out—adults west of the Cascade Mountains will be able to get permits, and those east of the mountains will be banned from them.
Oregon Overreacts To The “Card-Stacking” Phenomenon
Meanwhile, in Oregon, adult-use home cultivation requires no permit, no reporting and no mandatory security requirements to cultivate the same four plant limit Washington is considering. Neither do any of the other legal marijuana jurisdictions, and some of them allow cultivation of more than four plants.
However, Oregon legislators recently passed some bills to curtail the rights of patients cultivating marijuana for their medicinal purposes.
Medical marijuana patients in the Beaver State can cultivate six mature cannabis plants and 12 immature (non-flowering) cannabis plants at home. They may possess 1.5 pounds of cannabis from those plants (four ounces per plant). They have no state reporting requirements.
It used to be that many patients could then grow cannabis at one location, with six plants and 1.5 pounds allowed for each patient. This led to a condition called “card stacking,” where growers would collect as many patient cards as they could to create large cannabis farms, culminating in an embarrassing news story about a garden with 624 mature plants servicing 104 patients who all lived in Southern California.
So, in addition to adding a state residency requirement for medical marijuana, the legislature decided that the maximum number of plants that could be grown at home are 12 mature plants and 24 immature plants, regardless of how many patients live there. That includes any of the four legal recreational cannabis plants that can be grown in a household by a healthy adult.
Oregon Creates Additional Medical Marijuana Confusion
The problem with that hard limit is that for every card-stacked grow that was abusing the system, there were many altruistic caregivers who were legitimately growing lots of cannabis to provide huge amounts of marijuana to the sickest, most disabled patients.
To try to tiptoe that line between legit and abuse, the legislature has added more considerations for medical marijuana growers.
If your medical grow is located within city limits in a residential zone, and it contains no patients growing for themselves, but rather is run by growers cultivating for patients, that grow may have 12 mature plants and 24 immature plants, but those immature plants may be over 24 inches tall, and they may cultivate an unlimited number of immature plants under 24 inches tall.
So, this has led to a situation where a husband and wife who are both patients living at home who each grow for themselves get 12 mature plants and 24 immature plants, period. But if the husband grows for the wife and the wife grows for the husband, they get 12 mature plants, 24 immature plants over two feet, and unlimited seedlings, plus another adult living in the home could grow four recreational plants.
But what if the grow is located outside the city, or in the city but zoned non-residential? Well, then you get to cultivate 48 mature plants, 96 immature plants over 24 inches, unlimited seedlings, and four recreational plants.
However, you can only cultivate a maximum of six mature plants and 12 immature plants per patient. So, your 48-plant garden must cover eight patients. Furthermore, a grower can only cultivate for four patients, so the grow must have two growers.
Oregon Tries To Separate Compassion From Greed
During negotiations on these bills, some of the biggest compassionate growers pointed out that they were already serving more than eight patients. Which of their cancer, AIDS and PTSD patients should they abandon to meet the new limits?
That led the legislature to craft a “grandfather clause” for large grows that existed before 2015.
If your site qualifies under that clause, you are allowed double the plant limits for your grow, up to 96 mature plants and 192 immature plants over 24 inches at a rural or non-residential grow, based on six plants per patient that you had before 2015 and still have today.
The other problem was that is that many of these large grows, especially in Southern Oregon, are growing cannabis trees that can reach 20 feet tall. There’s no way a 1.5 lb possession limit per patient would work out.
So, the legislature decided that if your grow was an indoor grow, you could have 6 lbs per mature plant. An outdoor grow may have double that.
Let that sink in. If you have an Oregon medical cannabis grow site in the country that’s operated before 2015 and has four growers cultivating for 16 patients, your grow can have 96 mature plants and you can harvest 1,152 pounds—over a half-ton!—of marijuana.
Now, keep in mind that your 16 patients are allowed only 1.5 lbs possession each, for a total of 24 pounds between them all.
Gee, what then happens to the other 1,128 pounds?
Oregon Prices Out Compassionate Growers
For all these medical grow sites that are not simply a patient growing cannabis for themselves, there are also reporting requirements.
First, the grow site must possess a scale that has been certified by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for weighing the product. That cost comes in at around $300 to $900.
Then, the grower must pay a $200 fee to register the grow site for each patient that it is growing for.
If that grow is cultivating 12 or fewer plants, it may sell back product into the medical dispensary system, after paying for proper testing. The grow must also report its operations to the state health authority.
But for those larger grows, the grow site may sell product back into the recreational marijuana system. They must still buy the scale and pay the $200 fee per patient. Additionally, the grower must pay $40 per month to the recreational authority for access to required online reporting, plus a yet-to-be-determined annual administrative fee.
So, for that hypothetical grandfathered rural 16-patient garden producing over a half-ton of marijuana, the costs would add up to at least $8,960, not counting the unknown admin fee and before all the expenses necessary to secure and operate such a large grow.
To make up that cost, the state will let these growers sell up to 20 lbs of product to the adult pot shops per year.
Which again begs the question, what happens to the other 1,108 pounds?
Final Hit: This Doesn’t Need to Be So Difficult
Oregon and Washington are making home marijuana cultivation so difficult because of the mandate to prevent out-of-state diversion called for by the federal Department of Justice’s so-called Cole Memo.
It’s a fool’s errand. We had the greatest mandate ever to stop diversion for decades; it was called prohibition. Any cultivation by anybody anywhere led to a felony record and prison time.
If that didn’t stop weed from flowing eastward, why do these regulators think easily-cheatable online reporting databases and labyrinthine regulatory requirements are going to work?
When it comes to legal cultivation, the solution is simple: let the people grow, period. Don’t set unenforceable limits, require useless registrations, or maintain corrupted databases that will have no real effect on criminal intent, but will needlessly curtail adult rights and have devastating effects on patient needs.
But what about diversion? Don’t define a certain amount of plants or marijuana as per se evidence someone intends to traffic weed. If you catch them trafficking weed, bust them! You know, like we do for cigarettes and alcohol—you can possess as much of those as you like, but if you sell them without a license, you’re busted!
After all, it’s not nuclear weapons, it’s pot. What’s the worst that will happen? Adults in non-legal states might commit a crime by buying some of this marijuana from another adult who committed a crime to get it to them? And then they might get high? Like they are already doing now?
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