Home grow not always a guarantee following cannabis legalization

Home grow laws: Photo of people tending to chard and cannabis in a rooftop garden.

Adult-use cannabis has been legal in Washington state for over a decade, but growing the plant without a medical license could incur a felony charge. Illinois also prohibits recreational cannabis grows, but patients can grow up to five plants in a locked room. New Jersey regulators took the home grow ban one step further: neither medical nor recreational growers are permitted to grow cannabis.

States like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and West Virginia have approved medical use but still deem home grow illegal– forcing patients to purchase prescribed cannabis medicine from licensed dispensaries. With cannabis recalls becoming more frequent, some patients and informed consumers prefer to cultivate their own cannabis to ensure it doesn’t contain mold, heavy metals, or other undesired additions.

Regulators cite the legacy market when supporting the persistent illegality of home grows. For example, the Washington state Liquor Control Board home grow site states, “Allowing recreational home grows may provide a cover for the illicit market. This has been seen in other states that permit home grows for both medical and recreational purposes.”

Let’s do the math

States with home grow laws regulate how many plants one household can grow and where they can grow them. The caps range from three plants in more conservative states to up to 12 plants in Alaska and Michigan. On average, a cannabis plant can yield around six ounces and takes months to evolve from seed to smoke.

A street dealer would traditionally package flower into grams priced around $20 or eighths for $40 (pricing note: I haven’t bought street weed in a very long time). With those prices, a legacy operator using a medical license to cultivate could make $570 per plant selling grams. In a state that allowed five plants per patient, they would make $2,850 per run, aka less than $3000 every 3-4 months– which doesn’t include the cost of labor, utilities, and supplies.

Consumers and business owners in Washington state argue that over-regulation and taxation -not home grow- create a market for illicit dealers. Washington state has an excise tax of 37 percent compounded with city sales tax and priced into regulated cannabis products. Where I live, there is an 8.8 percent sales tax on top of the state excise tax, which means that 45.8 percent of the price I pay for cannabis goes to a government agency.

Eleven years into legalization, many consumers in my town still buy cannabis from their neighborhood dealer to skip the vice tax. I meet medical patients here who grow their own and forgo both the dispensary and the dealer for their own harvest. I’ve learned this information from networking with fellow connoisseurs over the years who express gratitude that they have built a tangible connection to their medicine in the garden.

In the case of Illinois, the legal recreational cannabis supply falls solely into the hands of 83 cultivation license holders. From that list, 63 are craft growers, and 21 are cultivation centers. The latter includes large corporations. Industry pundits like Box Brown believe that corporate involvement could play a role in regulatory measures against the right to grow your own, but for now, these are solely theories.

As Washington and New Jersey legislators diligently introduce bills to legalize adult-use home grow, advocates continue to question why regulators would keep small-scale home grows illegal amidst legalization. The debate rages on across the country– the Delaware Senate just advanced a legalization bill that prohibits residents from growing their own while Minnesota legislators are working a bill that allows up to eight plants. Though niche, the issue of access to home grown cannabis persists.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.