One of marijuana legalization’s original promises was the right to do it all yourself.
This cuts both ways. An integral part of the concept of “cannabis freedom” is the freedom to cultivate cannabis in your home. But at the same time, one of the very first excuses floated by authorities for opposing reasonable and sensible accommodations, like legal cannabis dispensaries, was that patients had the ability to cultivate a handful of plants at home.
This, they argued, meant that regulated retail sales were not necessary, which in turn opened the door for the idea that raiding dispensaries was a good use of time and resources.
This line of reasoning continues: Just because the voters approved medical marijuana for sick people doesn’t mean the voters approved a way for them to get any of it. Of course, this logic unravels at the slightest critical tug.
The Faulty Logic of Prohibition
Imagine being told that you didn’t need a supermarket or corner produce store as long as you had a few square feet of backyard in which to grow tomatoes. Or that the end of alcohol prohibition only meant that your bathtub gin was legal, not that you could finally walk down to the corner store for a pint of Scotch.
Now, in the first years of widespread marijuana legalization, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Accommodating rules allowing for home cultivation of dozens of plants—and, in some instances, many, many more—are being rewritten and replaced with much stricter and much smaller allowances. And in states turning toward medical marijuana for the first time, home grows are strictly prohibited.
The justification for this is that expansive home grows are unnecessary with so many commercial marijuana stores. Proponents for this crackdown on home growing go so far as to claim that cultivation ends up becoming a cover for criminal activity, which in turn, threatens the viability of commercial cannabis stores. In the end, this line of reasoning concludes that home growing is bad for marijuana legalization.
None of this is true. This is total nonsense.
In the real word, this new trend of reducing or banning home cultivation entirely hinders patient access. In some very prominent cases, it actually cuts off the supply of cannabis entirely while doing nothing to stop organized marijuana trafficking, which never paid attention to medical marijuana laws in the first place.
In the real world, reducing or banning home growing is yet another method for subverting marijuana legalization.
The Huffington Post took note of this trend last week. The news site reported that in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, home cultivation laws have allowed for massive indoor cannabis grows that have wrecked rental homes, angered neighbors and seen unscrupulous growers harvest massive quantities of cannabis intended for the black market. All of this, the website wrote, took place with the “protections” of medical marijuana laws.
Cracking Down on Home Cultivation
More important than the laws being flouted or abused is the unwanted attention that such activity has drawn. Over the summer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent official letters to the governors of those three states, as well as Alaska.
The letters pointed out that seizures of black market marijuana have soared, questioned whether the states were equipped to handle their medical marijuana markets and asked what the states would do to “combat diversion of marijuana” from legal states to states where weed is forbidden.
You could say that Sessions helped scare home growing out of the country’s original legal states. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill that cut down an initial 99-plant limit for medical marijuana patients to a strict ceiling of 12 plants per residence.
Cultivators in Oregon, who also enjoyed the ability to grow 99 plants, will now have to register with the state and have their plots inspected if they want to grow more than 12. And in Washington, instead of a “60-day supply,” home cultivators can have no more than six plants.
Similar prohibitions are also in place in California, where local police forces take a strict interpretation of the six-plant limit enshrined in state law under Prop. 64, the state’s voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative. Though medical cannabis patients are still allowed more plants than that, it’s up to the county to decide exactly how many more. And some communities are requiring permit fees and inspections even for a six-plant garden.
In the case of Elk Grove, a suburb of Sacramento, the police are soliciting reports of marijuana cultivation from members of the public. If someone next door has more than six plants, a police raid could ensue.
While there’s no doubt that cannabis bought or grown legally is being shipped or resold illegally, in no way can the blame for that be laid wholly at the feet (or tap roots) of legal weed. Instead, there’s a certain market incentive at play here—namely, the total lack of legal cannabis access in more than half of the country.
Prohibition is the Problem
As long as weed is illegal in Oklahoma, Nebraska or Wyoming, there will be an irresistible incentive for someone living in Colorado to supply weed smokers in those nearby states.
No prohibition on home grows will stop this. At the same time, strict rules on home grows present police a prime opportunity to get into your business, as the example of Elk Grove demonstrates.
In addition to all this, there are other reasons why the trend of writing home growing out of medical marijuana laws is troubling. In states like Maryland, Minnesota and New York, where there are so few dispensaries that some patients are expected to drive up to four hours to the nearest outlet, home growing is the only viable option. Too bad it’s not permitted in many of these same states.
This coordinated turn away from home growing is a typical overreaction to a problem that can easily be solved. Interstate sales are illegal. Someone growing for interstate sales is violating the law—and in most cases, is growing far more plants than they’d be allowed to in the first place.
Other hacks setting themselves up as experts are now flipping the first argument we mentioned on its head—the argument that home grows aren’t needed because there are retail marijuana stores, and, somehow a retail marijuana store will go out of business thanks to someone growing six plants at home.
“In my view, states should not permit home grow,” said Maryland-based John Carnevale, who, as the Huffington Post worryingly reported, is now “consulting with California” on its policies.
“It [home growing] is simply not good policy,” he said. “It interferes with the creation of a legal market and interferes with states’ ability to regulate it.”
Legal retail marijuana stores are subject to microscopic scrutiny. Cannabis sold in these stores is regulated more stringently than food. It’s subjected to track-and-trace requirements and quality-testing, and they’re selling boatloads of it, even with accommodations for a massive cottage industry.
For example, Colorado sold $1.3 billion worth of legal weed in 2016—without any of these new home growing limits. Clearly, the ability to grow cannabis in one’s home is in no way a disincentive to going around the corner (or hopping in the car to drive an hour) to go buy some.
And, as long as legal states allow communities to ban marijuana dispensaries—and they do—the right to home grow is absolutely necessary. Later this year, when Michigan plans to force all of its dispensaries to close down just so it can allow some to reopen later, home growing will be the only avenue through which many patients will be able to access cannabis.
The only problem with homegrown marijuana is the lack of it, both in states where cannabis is illegal and in states where medical marijuana is presumably legal.