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Why Can’t Americans Grow Their Own Weed Without Fear?

As an old farm boy, it has always seemed strange to me that most states, and the federal government, treat someone who grows a few marijuana plants for personal use as a more serious offender than someone who buys cannabis from the black market. In practice, by penalizing personal cultivation, the government encourages a thriving black market  with absolutely no controls over age, potency or purity. At least if one grows their own marijuana, they can be assured it includes no pesticide residue or other harmful additives. This is an arbitrary policy that has absolutely no basis in public safety.

But marijuana prohibition has never been a rational policy, and this bias against home cultivation is just another example of that principle.

At NORML, we have always supported the right of individuals to grow their own marijuana, as a logical option compared to purchasing it from licensed dispensaries. On one hand, growing your own just makes common sense. We can brew up to 100 gallons of home-brew beer in our basements under current law, even if very few Americans actually make their own beer. The same should be true for cultivating our own marijuana.

However, most marijuana smokers will not grow their own as it requires a significant degree of skill and expertise, along with expensive lighting, exhaust and growing equipment. Growing cannabis is not as simple as throwing a few seeds in the ground and occasionally watering the plants. Thus, most smokers prefer the convenience and reliability of purchasing our marijuana from a retail outlet.

But including the right to grow our own marijuana will serve as leverage to assure the marijuana available at retail outlets is high quality, safe and affordable. If the legal market tries to sell us poor quality marijuana, or tries to exploit smokers by charging exaggerated prices, or sells marijuana without having it tested for molds and pesticides and labelled for THC and CBD strength,we always have the option of growing our own. Just the threat of that should suffice to assure the legal market is responsive to the legitimate needs of consumers.

Most state criminal codes now classify the simple possession of a small amount of marijuana as a misdemeanor, but the cultivation of even a few plants is treated as if it were for the purpose of distribution, a felony offense. Other states treat cultivation as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the weight, but they weigh the whole plant, not just the usable parts. And for larger amounts, the penalties are frequently more harsh than those for violent crimes. In Montana, for example, cultivating more than a pound of marijuana carries with it a possible life sentence, and at least one defendant is current facing that absurd possibility.

By Keith Stroup
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