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Radical Rant: Home-Grown Cannabis Bans Threaten Marijuana Reform Success

Russ Belville

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On Sunday, marijuana became legal for adults in the state of Nevada. However, cultivating marijuana is not legal for adults unless they live farther than 25 miles away from a licensed retail marijuana shop.

It’s another example of what’s called a “halo rule.”

Marijuana Policy Project introduced this concept in the 2010 Proposition 203 that brought medical marijuana to Arizona. It mandated that any patient living within 25 miles of a dispensary could not grow their own cannabis; rather, they had to register with and purchase their medicine from their local dispensary.

At first, this meant that all patients could grow their own cannabis, as the law went into effect before any licenses had been awarded to dispensaries. But as the dispensaries opened, every patient within that 1,963.5 square mile area had to take down their gardens, wasting their investment of time and money in equipment and secure, lockable grow rooms.

As of 2014, so many dispensaries had opened throughout the state that 97.2 percent of the population was living within a no-home-grow halo.

The halo concept made its way west to Nevada as their legislature tackled the problem of dispensaries. Nevada’s law hadn’t mandated any retail outlets, but did allow for all patients to cultivate up to 12 cannabis plants for their medical use. In 2013, the state passed a law that created the dispensaries, with a 25-mile halo rule included. Patients who were already growing were given until last summer to take down their gardens within the dispensary halos.

With most of the personal medical gardens eliminated, Question 2 was passed in November, also with a halo rule, and with an 18-month lockout on recreational licensing for all but the existing medical marijuana retail shops, processors and growers.

A similar halo rule, this time for 40 miles, has been instituted in North Dakota’s new medical marijuana law. Massachusetts, in 2012, passed a medical marijuana initiative that only allowed “hardship exemptions” for cultivation, if the patient could show that distance and/or cost to acquire medicine from the nearest dispensary was too prohibitive.

Since Michigan became the 13th medical marijuana state in 2008, 16 states and D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws. None of those jurisdictions allow all patients to cultivate their own cannabis, though legalization has ameliorated that situation for D.C. and Massachusetts. Of course, the first state to legalize, Washington, infamously maintained felony punishment of cannabis cultivation as well.

As legalization continues to spread across America, our opponents are going to realize they can’t win the battle, so they are just going to try to limit the casualties. Their number one priority will be to ensure that we cannot grow our own cannabis. This will ensure that well-financed licensees will reap maximum profit in the short run, giant corporations can take over the market in the long run and law enforcement can keep busting growers as usual.

In 2010, with adult use legalization failing in California with 46 percent of the vote, national legalization polls hovering at an average of 44 percent and no states with legalization, compromising on home grow rights to get something passed made some sense.

But since California’s Prop 19 failed, we have gone 9-for-12 in statewide legalization votes. Seven of the nine wins allowed for personal home grows without halos. The three losses weren’t because of home grow, but rather because of commercial grow monopolies (Oregon’s 2012 Measure 80, Ohio’s 2015 Issue 3) or because of a conservative electorate (Arizona’s 2016 Prop 205). Last year’s national polls on legalization averaged 58 percent.

Critics of this analysis tell me it’s unfair because I’m comparing apples (initiative states where the public will support home grows) to oranges (legislative states where politicians will not support home grows). It makes sense that the first states to legalize medical and recreational marijuana will be more liberal with grow rights.

But this election, two of the newest medical marijuana states, Florida and North Dakota, passed their initiatives by wide margins—71 percent and 64 percent, respectively. In 2012, Massachusetts’ initiative passed with 63 percent. Home grow rights could have been added to those initiatives, and even if it cost 10 percent of the voters, they still would have passed easily.

Montana just passed an initiative by 58 percent to expand how much marijuana could be home grown by caregivers and made it easier for patients to qualify by adding PTSD and chronic pain to the law. This happened just four years after the voters rejected a similar veto referendum to expand medical marijuana by about the same margin.

There may still be situations where the politics of a state dictate the need to remove home grow from marijuana reform to get something passed. Arkansas’ medical marijuana got a slim 53 percent win, and that was the version without home grow. The other Arkansas initiative that was eliminated by the courts had home grow and was polling worse. Arizona’s legalization suffered a slim 48 percent loss; maybe it would have performed better without home growing provisions.

But in other states, the politics demand that we fight to establish personal grow rights.

National marijuana policy wonks strongly advised Oregon’s successful 2014 legalization campaign to eliminate any home growing, since a mid-term campaign would already bring out a more conservative electorate. Our leaders called that a deal-breaker, compromised for a smaller home grow limit of four cannabis plants and won the biggest margin of victory for legalization in a mid-term. (Overall, California’s 57.13 percent has now beaten Oregon’s 56.11 percent).

We need to move forward with strong leadership that resists the temptation to eliminate crucial home grow rights to sweeten the electoral chances. Without home grow, we are at the mercy of government over-taxation of marijuana, corporate price-gouging of marijuana and law enforcement actions against the inevitable underground market and personal home growers seeking affordable marijuana.

Previously in Radical Rant: The Dumbest Stoner Moves of 2016, Part 2

Click here for all of Russ Belville’s columns.

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