OLYMPIA, Wash. (Jan. 28, 2020) – Last Tuesday, a Washington state House committee passed a bill that would expand the state’s marijuana laws to allow home cultivation of cannabis despite continuing federal marijuana prohibition.
A bipartisan coalition of 10 representatives introduced House Bill 1131 (HB1131) last year and it was carried over to the 2020 legislative session. The bill would allow individuals over the age of 21 to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. There would be a limit of 15 marijuana plants in any single residence.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Washington since 2012, but home-grown cannabis remains illegal under state law. Passage of HB1131 would remove another barrier for cannabis users in the state
On Jan. 21, the House Committee on Commerce and gaming passed HB1131 by a 9-2 vote.
Washington legalized medical marijuana back in 1998 and was the first state to legalize cannabis for general adult use. Since voters in the state passed I-502 in 2012, the market for cannabis has expanded in the state. Despite this, federal prohibition remains on the books.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Stripping away state laws criminalizing cannabis is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take up to 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Washington state joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Along with Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
The push to legalize home-grown marijuana in Washington underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB1131 will now move to the full House for further consideration.