Seattle Marijuana Law: Smoking in Public

Man Smoking Marijuana in Public Seattle
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In 2012, voters in Washington and Colorado successfully passed marijuana laws allowing adults 21 and older to purchase, possess, and consume marijuana recreationally. Yet, a good deal of smoke remains when it comes to understanding what is legal, what is not, and the various social and legal mechanisms which continue to blur the two. Indeed, marijuana laws in Seattle have long been considered some of the most liberal in the United States. But don’t let your good time end with a ticket. Here’s what you need to know about public weed consumption in Seattle.

Over a Decade of Pro-reform Policy

The successful launch of recreational marijuana laws in the state in July 2014 has led to several billion dollars in sales, generating hundreds of millions in tax revenues for the state. In the face of such a sizeable pile of money, Seattle has continued to enforce basic laws surrounding the controlled use of marijuana, in conversation with the city council, police department, and various other governmental organizations.

In fact, the Seattle City Council was able to successfully pass legislation over the past two decades aimed at shoring up police resources and better inviting them to where they are most needed. This, in one case, meant deprioritizing the enforcement of marijuana laws by police. In another, it meant clarifying the definition of “public.”

Voters in Washington first passed legislation creating a pathway for patients to use medical marijuana in 1998. In so doing, the state had to create an informed policy on public use of marijuana, as well as where it could be legally grown and stored, where it could be used, and when its use could be reasonably understood as harmful to the public (while driving, etc.). Initiative 692, the medical marijuana law in Washington, directed state governments to maintain the following standards regarding when and where a patient uses medical marijuana:

  • It shall be a misdemeanor to use or display medical marijuana in a manner or place which is open to the view of the general public.
  • The law does not require any accommodation of any medical use of marijuana in any place of employment, in any school bus or on any school grounds, or in any youth center.
  • No person shall be entitled to claim the affirmative defense provided for engaging in the medical use of marijuana in a way that endangers the health or well-being of any person through the use of a motorized vehicle on a street, road, or highway.

Within this definition, medical marijuana laws specify weed can be used in any place which is out of view of the public. As is often the case, lawmakers at the state level may dictate broad, but specific guidelines for an industry while giving latitude to local governments to oversee the industry to best serve all local residents. In line with this, the Seattle City Council has further defined the term “public” within the city. This includes:

  • Streets and alleys in the city
  • State and county highways and roads within city limits
  • Any school buildings or grounds, including universities
  • A public dance hall and any related grounds
  • Any place or part of an establishment selling beer or alcohol
  • Any public building, meeting hall, lobby, or dining room of any hotel, restaurant, theater, store, garage, or filling station generally open to the public
  • Any place where the public has unrestricted access
  • Any railroad train or other public transportation, including while waiting at a station, depot, or stop which has unrestricted public access
  • At any publicly owned beach, park, or playground
  • Any place where the public is, generally, likely to share unrestricted access


The Cost of Disobeying the Law

Man Smoking Marijuana in Public Seattle
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Marijuana laws in Washington have been relaxed, offering legal protections beyond that of the federal government to growers, businesses, and consumers for a number of years now, and the state has continued to adjust cannabis laws to better reflect the views of the public and, as mentioned above, deliver much-needed government resources to where they are most needed. That being said, if you choose to smoke weed in public anywhere in Washington and are formally ticketed by a state or local police officer, there is a price to pay (albeit a minimal one compared to states where possession still carries mandatory prison time).

There is a $50 fee for users caught in the act in any public place. As we’ve seen, Seattle has clarified further where “public” can be generally defined.

In 2015, lawmakers in Washington reduced the fee to $27, the equivalent of drinking alcohol in public. Seattle, however, has had a legal mechanism deprioritizing the enforcement of cannabis use laws to the lowest possible police priority since 2004. This means that, at this point, the police are cracking down on homelessness in the city more than public marijuana use.


Article by: Joey Wells