Home Grown: Thumbs Up or Down for Washington Growers?

Of all the states that allow recreational cannabis, Washington is the only one that prohibits growing cannabis indoors for residents. Now, there’s hope that may change. But what could that mean for you and your favorite local dispensary?

The right to grow your own marijuana has been enshrined in cannabis culture from its very earliest days. At its roots—no pun intended—cannabis is, of course, merely a plant. It's a completely natural product that requires minimal processing to be medically or recreationally viable.

Of course, there’s a catch: for decades, growing cannabis indoors wasn’t a right, but a serious crime under federal law.

Now it seems that’s all up in the air…or is it?

While federal decriminalization seems only a matter of time, it’s impossible to predict when that will happen. And that uncertainty has much to do with why Washington finds itself the only cannabis-legal state that prohibits its citizens from growing cannabis indoors. How’d we come to this state of affairs, and—more importantly—is there hope this will change anytime soon?

The Cole Memo: A Shaky Foundation for a Legal-Weed America

In considering whether or not to decriminalize at all, most states refer to the Cole Memo. This 2013 memo outlined a cautious, legally nuanced approach for states to determine their destiny when it comes to cannabis.

Though in hindsight, the Obama-era Department of Justice looks like an opium den compared with the current iteration under Jeff Sessions, the Cole Memo was really just a tentative first step in the legalization process. As we’re seeing under the current administration, it offers states no real protection against a federal crackdown, which Sessions has promised more than once.

So when it came time to debate decriminalization, Washington State went over and above the memo. It became the only legal-weed state to prohibit private citizens from growing cannabis indoors. (The more recent SB 5131 made an exception for medical marijuana patients to grow a limited amount for personal use.)

While that’s a major frustration for budding home growers, there is still hope. Namely, in the form of a State-mandated recommendation by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), which hit lawmakers’ desks late in 2017.

The LCB Report: A No-Go on Growing Cannabis Indoors

Sadly, any short-term hope those itching to grow cannabis indoors may have felt evaporated with the Dec. 1 report. While it didn’t recommend continuing the ban on home growing, maintaining the status quo emerged as one of two strong options. The other being a strict framework of state regulation including permitting and the same rigorous traceability provisions commercial operations such as Clear Choice are required to use. (A middle-ground LCB recommendation providing looser oversight appears to be a rather distant third choice.)

Of course, the final say lies with state lawmakers, who begin the 2018 legislative session in early January. However, the Cole Memo's tone and the Attorney General’s stance on cannabis indicate the ban will likely remain in effect.

As always, we'll keep our ears to the ground to continue reporting on the cannabis issues you care about most. In the meantime, we urge you to contact your representatives directly and let them know your concerns regarding this important issue. While we’re proud to supply you with the best cannabis around, we support your right to determine where and how you get cannabis.

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Why Is Washington Cannabis the Best In the World?

Hey, we’re not above a little bit of home state pride: we’re pretty sure that the cannabis grown here in the Evergreen State comes from the freshest, cleanest, best-cared-for plants anywhere in the world.

But on a more objective note, the safeguards and standards put forth in Washington Initiative 502 are among the most forward-looking and comprehensive in the country. And as we noted in an earlier blog, the passage of Bill 5131 moves the game even further ahead by kickstarting the process of assessing cannabis quality from seed to flower with a model based on the Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

By adopting a food-based approach—or perhaps more appropriately, one based on wine?—the state recognizes cannabis in the same way most consumers do: as a high-value agricultural product, deserving of the same quality protections we subject our food and beverages to.

What Are Labs Looking For?

State law mandates that all cannabis offered for sale be tested by a third-party laboratory, and this oversight is widely touted as being one of the chief advantages of a legal, well-regulated cannabis industry.

Testing for mold and other contaminants was factored into the original recreational cannabis law of 2012, Washington Initiative 502. The requirement for mold testing is significant, as it’s often difficult to detect visually and can have serious health impacts on consumers.

Then, after a lengthy period required to settle on an effective testing protocol, the state stepped up its pesticide-testing regimen in 2016. Widely hailed in the cannabis industry, the program is still in a ramping-up mode, but already seen as putting an effective chill—as opposed to “chill out”—on growers tempted to use illegal pesticides.

The Consumer Impact

Of course, all these protections come at a price, and Washington State imposes a 37% charge structured as a sales tax (it should be pointed out that Washington has no actual sales tax, so this surcharge is especially significant).

This means that legal weed, at least for the time being, is pricier than that found on the street. If the illegal marijuana industry has any hope of survival, this is the only real leverage it possesses, and there are plenty of examples that legalization hasn’t completely shuttered the black market.

Advocates of legalization are taking the long view that over time, the price of legal weed will continue to drop, making the surcharge for buying illegal less of motivation for buyers on the fence. And if the wave of legalization on the national front, fewer states where cannabis is illegal means fewer states where illegal growers can make a handsome profit on smuggled cannabis.

A Personal Dedication to the Best Weed

Particularly at this early stage, as state testing and regulation protocols are in their infancy, many of the decisions about cannabis cleanliness and purity are being made where the rubber hits the road: in dispensaries.

Just as we’ve seen in the food-and-wine world, some operations are distinguishing themselves with a qualitative approach to cannabis, testing their cannabis over and above state guidelines to ensure the safety and good health of their products. It’s an involved and expensive procedure in and of itself, but we’re pleased to see that, by and large, the marketplace has responded with overwhelming positivity. It may just be what makes Washington cannabis the best in the world.

 

Why is Washington the Only State Where You Can’t Smell Weed Before You Buy?

In so many regards, Washington State is ahead of the pack when it comes to cannabis and its smooth integration into safe, legal and well-regulated adult use. You’ll recall that voters approved cannabis for recreational use way back in 2012, and 2017’s Washington Senate Bill 5131 further refines and bolsters the original, groundbreaking legislation.

But in one crucial—and frustrating—regard, Washington is an outlier. Unlike every other state with legal weed, Washington marijuana laws prohibit customers from actually smelling their products before purchase.

Washington Marijuana Law: An Uncomfortable Compromise

This creates a major roadblock for dispensaries and consumers alike. Given that terpenes—the distinct aromatic compounds that give each strain its character—are perhaps the single most important signifiers of a plant’s identity, not allowing consumers to smell cannabis is akin to purchasing a bottle of fruit juice without being told what kind of fruit it is. You may end up with a juice you enjoy, but you have no way of knowing in advance.

One result is that customers in Washington are much more likely to purchase types of cannabis they’re unfamiliar with in the smallest amount possible, for fear of ending up with a product they don’t care for. This means repeat trips to the dispensary—not a bad thing in and of itself, but a potential inefficiency—and an extended period of trial and error.

In defense of this Washington marijuana law, retailers are permitted to display tiny amounts of cannabis in small mesh-covered “sniff jars” so that customers can get an idea of the nature of the product. But given the plant’s volatility—it quickly grows stale when decanted into an unsealed environment—the jars end up offering an inferior representation of the plant, and most dispensaries forgo this practice.

Misunderstanding Cannabis’ Nature?

The prohibition against smelling cannabis belies some fundamental misperceptions of its nature. For one, it assumes that marijuana is intoxicating in its unvaporized or uncombusted state (there is no evidence to support this).

It’s also a holdover from traditional liquor laws, which historically have targeted “open containers” as a focus of enforcement. From a legal standpoint, the desire to limit access—especially to minors, or others who may not have legal standing to purchase the cannabis themselves—makes good sense.

But while some cannabis products—like tinctures, edibles, and beverages—can, in fact, be shared from such an “open container,” the cannabis flower retailers want customers to be able to smell isn’t readily consumed in this way (unless you’re planning on eating a handful of flower, which we don’t recommend). In short, the law applies a reasonably appropriate restriction to the product it’s least appropriate for.

Hope for the Future, or Holding Our Breath?

As noted above, the passage of Bill 5131 was widely hailed as an improvement over existing Washington marijuana laws, but it did nothing to clarify this aggravating loophole in the retail experience. Given the long development periods required for bills of this nature, it’s a safe bet we’re stuck with the current arrangement for the foreseeable future.

If this aspect of the retail experience is frustrating, we can take heart in our state’s otherwise forward-leaning and comprehensive take on cannabis. Let’s hope there’s a solution soon, either in the form of a more refined legal approach, or perhaps the wide adoption of Smell-O-Vision.

 

How Washington Marijuana Laws Are Changing (For the Better)

In so many regards, we have it so good here in Washington State: The unspoiled, awe-inspiring beauty of natural resources like Puget Sound and the Olympic mountain range; a healthy economy based both on cutting-edge tech and natural products like old-growth timber, dairy and crops from our bountiful and productive acreage.

Oh, and don’t forget our forward-thinking cannabis laws!

Washington was ahead of the cannabis curve in many regards, decriminalizing medical use back in 1998, and pioneering—along with Colorado—full legalization in 2012 (full phase-in being completed in July 2014).

Now, three years in, public comfort with and acceptance of cannabis is high, no pun intended. But the making of Washington marijuana laws—like that of sausages, to quote Otto von Bismarck—is a complex, often messy affair, and when it comes to cannabis, it’s an understatement to categorize our laws as “works in progress.”

That said, considering that a few short years ago, the use and possession of cannabis garnered otherwise law-abiding citizens serious jail time, this evolution is nothing short of miraculous. It appears that post-legalization, we’re entering a period of refinement in which the concerns and desires of average citizens are percolating up to the statehouse and becoming enshrined in our state regulations.

This phase will take flower—again, a coincidental term—in July 2017, when Washington Senate Bill 5131 (essentially an amendment to the original 2012 bill) goes into effect. Broadly supported both by the burgeoning cannabis industry and by ordinary citizens, here are the main provisions of the revision:

The Newest Washington Marijuana Laws Taking Effect July 2017

Sharing is Now Caring

Previously, “sharing the wealth”—even in our decriminalized environment—was illegal. The original 2012 law that legalized recreational marijuana forbade the sharing of any cannabis products whatsoever.

Now, anyone of age (21 years or older) can “deliver” to another adult up to one-half ounce of flower, eight ounces of infused solid edible, 36 ounces of infused liquid, or three and one-half grams of concentrates, as long as no money changes hands. That said if you want to hand off in public, be sure to keep your consumables in their original packaging.

Home-Grown Fun?

Currently, Washington residents are not permitted to grow cannabis for their own recreational use. Now, the state liquor and cannabis board is required to conduct a study of options for “the legalization of marijuana plant possession and cultivation by recreational marijuana users” and report on their findings by December 1, 2017.

The Future Is Organic

From our perspective as purveyors of high-quality cannabis, one of the most exciting developments is the move—the first in the nation—towards the same organic-grade certification and standards that apply to food.

Though cannabis producers and retailers would still be forbidden to use the word “organic” to describe their products, the new bill proposes a system of standards that attempts to match “to the extent practicable” the federal Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. This includes certification for producers and processors, inspections, testing, and enforcement.

And concerned canna-citizens take note: The process includes opportunities for public comment. Anyone wishing to participate as part of an advisory board should contact the WSDA Organic Program at organic@agr.wa.gov for consideration.

What do you think of the new provisions taking effect?