Of all the suggestions by the three state agencies to change Washington State’s medical marijuana laws after full legalization, the one that concerned me the most was the proposal to eliminate home growing for patients. I consider this change to be both misguided and premature at this time for three main reasons:
1) Guarantee access – It is important that home growing still be allowed to assure legitimate medical marijuana patients will always have access to cannabis. The agencies assume patients will easily be able to buy marijuana at the newly licensed stores but that might not be the case.
While the Attorney General Eric Holder claims the federal Department of Justice will take a mostly hands off approach regarding Washington’s recreational marijuana laws, it is premature to assume everything will work out smoothly. After all the Obama administration previously failed to live up to its past memos regarding states’ marijuana laws. With marijuana still technically illegal under federal law individual district attorneys could still cause significant problems.
2) Making sure patients have the right marijuana – Even if the stores are allowed to function as planned there is no guarantee they will carry the strains that work best for each patient. There are probably thousands of different strains of cannabis and the limited number of new retail stores will only carry a few. Some patients may have spent years searching for just the right strain that works best for them to grow at home. It would be wrong to force these patients to give up their best treatment option.
3) Home growing is unlikely to undermine the legal market – It would seem the main reason for eliminating home growing by patients is due to concerns that it could significantly undermine the legal market and deprive the state of the expected tax revenue. It think there is sufficient evidence to show these worries are misguided. When people are given the option to easily buy marijuana from legitimate stores, that is overwhelmingly what they will choose to do.
For example a 2013 European Commission report found that among European countries the Netherlands has the fewest regular marijuana users growing their own plants at home. “The proportion of intensive users reporting growing their own cannabis as dominant way of obtaining cannabis is lowest in the Netherlands (5%) and England and Wales (9%) and highest in the Czech Republic (21%), Italy (19%) and Sweden (18%).” The country with public marijuana stores has the fewest people going through the hassle of trying to grown their own. Coffee shops are where 87 percent of users in the Netherlands get their marijuana. People want convenience and selection.
Similarly, it is possible to avoid significant taxes on tobacco products in Washington State by growing your own tobacco, but extremely few residents in the state bother. It is a lot of work for relatively little savings and it is tough for individual to produce the same quality as a commercial operation.
I believe it is premature, unnecessary and unfair to eliminate home growing for medical marijuana patients at this time. At the very least any decision on this home grow issue should be put off for a few years until we know that the retail marijuana stores will operate as planned and will provide a sufficiently diverse selection. I would strongly encourage the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Health consider changing this part of their draft recommendations.
This piece is being sent to the Washington State Medical Marijuana Working Group during their comment period.