Should legalization initiatives allow people to grow cannabis at home for personal use? It's a question that Canadian and American activists and legislators will have to answer as they move toward the end of cannabis prohibition.
Of the four legal states, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska allow residents to grow at home. But Washington State doesn't. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. is allowing home cultivation while the district continues fighting with Congress over legalization.
Earlier this week, we published a story on why you should have the right to grow at home. We're looking at the flip side of the debate now. In this case, though, we're not just featuring the arguments of staunch pro-legalization advocates. The first two arguments for limiting home-growing come from law enforcement agencies who are generally against home-growing. The second two take a go-slow approach to introducing home-grows in legal markets.
1. Protecting your kids
First, the arguments from law enforcements. The Canadian Police Association (CPA) says growing a few plants in your backyard may be convenient, but it could also make marijuana more accessible to your children. Michael Gendron, CPA's Communication's Officer, told Civilized home-growing should be highly regulated and limited to medical marijuana patients.
"The CPA has generally said that the government should replicate alcohol and tobacco regulations when moving toward legalization. I would imagine that marijuana should be a little bit closer to tobacco than alcohol, where some home brewing is allowed. We're looking for a very regulated regime. So, on the surface, we'd say 'no' with the possibility of exceptions on the medical marijuana side, with regulations still being a factor. But generally speaking, for recreational use we would say 'no.' It would just be in line with other restricted substances for keeping it out of the hands of minors, similar to the regulations that we have for tobacco right now."
2. Supporting the regulated market
Letting people grow at home can undercut the regulated market, according to Jim Gerhardt, Vice President of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. On Feb. 10, Gerhardt discussed legalization with Massachusetts lawmakers, who are investigating the issue ahead of the cannabis ballot initiative in the works for this coming November.
"Home growers can produce a lot of marijuana and they can certainly sell it for less than the [licensed] dispensaries," he said.
However, Colorado's cannabis market made just shy of a billion dollars in 2015. So home cultivation doesn't seem to be hurting the regulated market that much.
It can also curtail the black market, argue Canadian Liberal Party policy analysts, by giving people a low-cost, legal alternative to the retail market.
3. A pragmatic approach to legalization
Now, for the arguments from pro-legalization advocates. Only one of America's four legal states prohibits home cultivation. When New Approach Washington developed the ballot initiative to legalize cannabis, home cultivation was not included in the regulations.
But does that mean activists, advocates and residents were opposed to marijuana gardening? No, according to Sam Méndez, Executive Director of the Cannabis Law & Policy Project at the University of Washington School of Law. He told Civilized that the ban on home growing was more about pragmatics than policy:
"Basically it came down to a question of strategy to get the initiative to pass. Back in 2012, there were three initiatives - in Colorado, Washington and Oregon - and no one knew if they were going to pass, and didn't know how conservative an initiative should be. Oregon was the most liberal of the three and it didn't pass. Washington was the most conservative of the three, in that it didn't allow home grows."
In hindsight, Méndez thinks that Washington's regulations could have been bolder:
"It [the initiative] probably could've included home growing and would've passed anyway," he told Civilized. "I think most campaigns [in other states] are probably going to include home grows at this point."
He also told Civilized that home growing will be added to Washington's laws sometime down the road.
4. The best chance for legalization is incremental change
Not all states are ready for wide-sweeping change. That's why the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) supports incremental change:
"NORML strongly acknowledges the need for home grow," Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Civilized. "However, we would not oppose efforts to regulate retail cannabis sales and/or legalize adult possession strictly because such a provision [as home cultivation] was absent from a proposal. This is because NORML believes that advocates are in a better position to leverage for more sensible (and for fewer) regulations in an environment where the adult use of cannabis is codified under the law as opposed to an environment where cannabis is illicit and all users of the plant are criminals."
But NORML also considers it imperative to push for broader rights once those smaller gains are made. According to the group's Principles Governing Responsible Cannabis Regulation:
"If and when such measures are enacted restricting personal cultivation rights, NORML believes that lobbying efforts to restore and enact these rights be among advocates' highest priorities."
So home cultivation remains one of NORML's ultimate goals.