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Recreational cannabis home-grow bill dropped

Legislation authorizing personal cannabis cultivation may be taken up again in 2022 or reintroduced in next biennium

This story was originally written for another course at Western. Even though the reporter is not on The Front’s staff, it has gone through our editing process and meets our standards.

On Feb. 22, 2021, the Washington State Legislature dropped a proposed cannabis legislation to authorize personal home grows after it met its fiscal committee cutoff deadline.

House Bill 1019 would have authorized adults age 21 and over to maintain up to six personal plants on the premises of their housing unit, with certain limitations on production and possession.

The bill has now been tabled for this session. Rep. Shelley Kloba said the House Appropriations Committee dropped it because they are prioritizing legislation focused on COVID-19 and economic relief, racial equity and climate change.

“HB 1019 did not fit neatly into one of these four categories and was not considered a high enough priority to consider in a year where we are hearing less legislation as a result of the pandemic,” said a spokesperson for Kloba in an email.

While the Washington State Legislature will not reconvene on this proposed bill during the 2021-2022 session, legalization of recreational cannabis home-grows can be taken up again next year because it was introduced and passed for review in the House in the 2021 session. If it is not passed next year, it will have to be reintroduced in the next biennium.

In 2012, Washington Initiative 502 appeared on the general ballot to legalize licensed cultivation, testing and retail sales of cannabis products. Whatcom residents have spent over $249 million in dispensaries since 2014, according to 502Data for Whatcom County.

This year, the Washington State Legislature aimed to allow residents to grow their own recreational cannabis. Growing cannabis still remains a federal offense and is restricted to medical card-holding patients and licensed producers throughout the state.

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A spokesperson for Kloba said that she had sponsored this bill because she felt it was the right thing to do.

“It makes no sense that you can be charged with a felony for growing a plant whose derivative products you can buy at a store,” said a spokesperson for Kloba. “This bill will correct an injustice in our system and give people the freedom to grow small amounts of cannabis on their own property.”

Nick Cihlar, co-owner of Subdued Excitement, a producing dispensary in Ferndale, said in an email that there are numerous factors to account for before growing cannabis.

“If you are a grower and you are doing it because you love it, then of course, you grow your own,” Cihlar said. “If, however, you just like to smoke high quality herb and don’t like paying for it, but can, I would probably not bother.”

The intricacies and variables of growing high-quality produce remain trade secrets, but Cihlar said if cannabis amateurs want to try it, they need to be prepared for investment of their time and resources.

“It’s easy to grow weed, but it is very difficult to grow really good weed consistently,” Cihlar said.

Some of the aspects that need to be considered before growing plants involve spacing, lighting, watering, nutrients and especially good ventilation. For outdoor grows, some strains can require up to a hundred square feet per plant, but the House bill states plants must be out of sight and smell from the public. Cihlar said indoor grows can be stacked, but ventilation is important for healthy plants and homes.

“You can have closed systems that work just fine,” Cihlar said. “But typically poor ventilation leads to mold and bug infestations.”

Damages to homes caused by indoor grow operations were one of the reasons for House Bill 1019 to retain the rights of property owners to prohibit the cultivation of cannabis.

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“The bill sets down reasonable guard rails for home grows,” said a spokesperson for Kloba. “It establishes a small civil fine for growing cannabis that can be seen or smelled from the street to ensure that home growing does not become a nuisance or a target for theft.”

54% of Bellingham housing units were renter-occupied in 2015, according to the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for Bellingham housing.

Perry Eskridge, a representative for the Whatcom County Association of Realtors, said cannabis planting will certainly be a focus point for future lease agreements if the bill comes to pass.

“It will come down to the agreement between the owner and the tenant,” Eskridge said. “If you are an owner, you shouldn’t be concerned about your property value dropping with a history of marijuana cultivation. There is no stigma associated to marijuana compared to say a meth lab.”

Methamphetamine production is known to create chemical poisoning and structural damage in buildings that housed the production, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eskridge said that wouldn’t be a problem with cannabis plants.

“The only thing owners should be preoccupied about is the intense usage of water and energy required to grow weed, and of course, mold damage,” Eskridge said.

The costs of setting up a cannabis grow operation can be a big investment for amateur growers.

“There is a world of difference between what it would cost you and what it costs us,” Cihlar said. “If you are talking about a home grow, it will cost you significantly more per plant than it costs us. Again, trade secrets.”

With Whatcom County home to numerous producers and dispensaries, Cihlar said growing personal plants will be more about the process and enjoyment of caring for plants, rather than making it a profitable enterprise.

“Even in the best-case scenario, you will likely need several rounds to work out the kinks before you start getting something you are stoked about smoking,” Cihlar said. “Each round takes two and a half to three months, so you will invest at least a year and probably a couple thousand dollars before you start seeing any results.”

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For those who are thinking of taking on this hobby, Cihlar said it will need investment and time, and that it might fail to achieve a decent outcome.

“Only grow at home if you love it or think you might come to love it … The art and process of growing, that is, not just the end result,” Cihlar said.

Did George Washington Grow Hemp?

Throughout his lifetime, George Washington cultivated hemp at Mount Vernon for industrial uses. The fibers from hemp held excellent properties for making rope and sail canvas. In addition, hemp fibers could be spun into thread for clothing or, as indicated in Mount Vernon records, used in repairing the large seine nets Washington used in his fishing operation along the Potomac.

At one point in the 1760’s Washington considered whether hemp would be a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco but determined wheat was a better alternative.

Growing Hemp Today

Dean Norton, Director of Horticulture at Mount Vernon, planting industrial hemp. MVLA.

Since the spring of 2018, Mount Vernon has planted an industrial cultivar of hemp on the four-acre Farm site. Under the 2015 Industrial Hemp Law enacted by the Virginia General Assembly and working with the industrial hemp research program of the University of Virginia, Mount Vernon planted hemp to expand its interpretation of George Washington’s role as an enterprising farmer. As the first historic home of the founding fathers to plant hemp, Mount Vernon will use the plant as an interpretative tool to help better tell the story of Washington’s role as a farmer.

Harvesting of the industrial hemp takes place each summer. After the industrial hemp is dried it is used in fiber-making demonstrations onsite.