On July 9, Gregory Longenecker and David Light were pursued by police after being suspected of growing marijuana on state game land in Penn Township. The next day, Longenecker was found dead under a bulldozer operated by a Pennsylvania Game Commission worker and a state trooper. Light was charged with, and later cleared of, several felony and misdemeanor drug offenses, including a felony for marijuana manufacturing with intent to distribute.
Although the Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams has since deemed Longenecker’s death to be accidental, the encounter raises questions about the safety of current state marijuana policy. If Pennsylvania residents were able to grow cannabis at home, there wouldn’t have been a need for folks like Light to do so elsewhere, let alone on government-owned land.
Thriving recreational markets in D.C. and such states as Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Oregon have legalized home cultivation within their recreational marijuana laws. Despite the argument that home cultivation would hurt dispensaries and overall commercial sales, Colorado made $266,529,637 in marijuana tax revenue in 2018, nearly quadruple the amount in 2014, while allowing for home growing that entire period.
As a response to growing support for recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is currently traveling all over the state to learn what his constituents want in marijuana policy. There is a great need to include home growing in recreational legalization, such as the HB50 legislation being considered by the state’s General Assembly. Here’s why.
Legal home growing can reduce mass incarceration. Under current sentencing policy, cultivating plants at home is a felony charge and can result in prison time or house arrest.
Cannabis arrests increased nationwide in 2017 for the second straight year in a row, according to an analysis of FBI data, a trend that held true in South Jersey and the Philadelphia suburbs. Incarceration deeply impacts the Philadelphia region, one of the poorest major cities in the U.S., especially our black and Latino communities, which have been disproportionately targeted by the War on Drugs.
District Attorney Larry Krasner has made a conscious decision to interrupt the toxic cycle of incarceration by no longer prosecuting for cannabis possession. Legal home growing, which can prompt charges for use, sale, and possession, is a way to follow his lead.
Legal home growing increases access in rural and disabled communities. Cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, including their suburbs, have multiple dispensaries. Medical marijuana patients living outside of the state’s two major metropolitan areas, however, have to travel far to get their product And even if you can get there, the dispensary may not have the specific product, such as a particular strain of vape or flower, available to treat a specific ailment.
With recreational, we can expect a similar trend of dispensaries catering to metropolitan areas, leaving the burden to travel on many rural folks. This can be a logistical nightmare for anyone who doesn’t have the time, money, or overall means to travel long distances.
Lack of access also poses a barrier for those with disabilities. Dispensaries aren’t always compliant with the American Disabilities Act, meaning storefronts may not be accessible to those who can’t use stairs. This means many folks looking to treat symptoms of chronic conditions may not be able to enter dispensary doors. Additionally, the packaging of certain cannabis products, such as those designed to be “childproof” and tough to open, can pose as a barrier for those with motor disabilities. For rural residents and those with disabilities, home growing can provide a solution.
Legal home growing is a step toward more sensible drug policy. When discussing at-home cultivation, we are faced with the bigger picture of legalization. The increasingly lucrative legal cannabis industry remains dominated by white people, rather than the communities broken down by drug-war policing. Social equity programs, such as those in Oakland and Los Angeles designed to expand business opportunities for those living in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by drug arrests, are failing the very people it was designed for. Permits aren’t being issued, preventing people from these communities from opening their businesses.
Allowing folks to grow pot in their own homes opens the door for those wanting to work in the expanding legal industry without the risk of criminalization, something permit programs haven’t yet implemented successfully.
Understanding the benefits of legalizing home growing helps us understand the costs when it is criminalized. We have the opportunity to expand access and promote social equity. Why not seize it?