In November 2012, voters approved Washington State’s Initiative 502 (I-502), which decriminalizes recreational marijuana. While I-502 does not preempt federal law, it does allow for highly regulated production, distribution, sale, possession, and use of marijuana in Washington state.
Just like when opening any new market, Washington still has significant work to do in the development of practical restrictions regarding in-state recreational marijuana sales and consumption. For now, retail stores and consumers will adhere to regulations similar to the state’s liquor controls and tobacco laws.
Here are some current Washington marijuana laws, restrictions, and limitations that apply to all Washington residents and visitors.
Who can buy it?
As with alcohol, the minimum age requirement to purchase recreational marijuana is 21 years old. State law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from even entering the premises of a retail marijuana shop.
Any adult with a valid ID, regardless of residency, can purchase and possess up to one ounce (about 28 grams) of usable marijuana, or 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles in solid form, or 72 ounces in liquid form, or 7 grams of marijuana concentrates at a time.
Possession of any amount over one ounce up to 40 grams is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a mandatory minimum of 24 hours in jail and a fine ranging from $250-$500, depending on the number of offenses the individual has accrued.
Possession of more than 40 grams is a felony and may result in a fine up to $10,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment.
How to buy it
Purchasing retail marijuana is similar to buying alcohol. A customer must simply present a valid government issued ID, proving his or her age, and is then free to purchase any amount of marijuana up to the legal limit. Keep in mind that most cannabis shops are cash-only businesses. Federal banking regulations restrict banking services to individuals and businesses dealing in areas still illegal under federal law. Therefore, credit cards are generally not accepted at legal marijuana retailers.
Who can sell it?
It is still illegal to purchase marijuana on the street or black market. Only licensed retail stores, operating no earlier than 8 a.m. and no later than midnight, can legally sell marijuana. Stores may not be erected within 1000 feet of any elementary or secondary schools, playground, recreation center, child care facility, public park, public transit center, library, or gaming arcade that allows entrance to minors.
Washington State has set a cap of 334 retail marijuana stores statewide. Currently, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) has only issued 25 licenses. Separate licenses are required for each individual seller and location.
Licenses can only be obtained by adults at least 21 years of age who have been Washington residents for at least 3 months. However, the 30-day window to apply for a license is now closed. The LCB has the authority to re-open the window for licensing at their discretion.
Sale or distribution of marijuana in any amount or form without a state issued license is a class C felony and punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000. Likewise, giving or selling marijuana to minors under the age of 18 is a felony and can result in a $10,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
And though possession is legal in the entire state of Washington, each city and county are allowed to implement its own marijuana sale and production laws. Always check the web page of individual municipalities for specific restrictions and limitations.
Currently, the following cities and counties are zoned for recreational marijuana:
- Des Moines
- Douglas County
- King County
- Lewis County
- Maple Valley
- Moses Lake
- Mountlake Terrace
- Normandy Park
- Snohomish County
Cities and counties with interim zoning laws:
- Port Orchard
- Thurston County
- Walla Walla
Cities and counties with a current moratorium:
- Bainbridge Island
- Bonney Lake
- Clark County
- Columbia County
- East Wenatchee
- Federal Way
- Franklin County
- Grays Harbor County
- Island County
- Lake Forest Park
- Lake Stevens
- Mill Creek
- Oak Harbor
- Pacific County
- Skamania County
- Stevens County
- University Place
- West Richland
Cities and counties banning recreational marijuana:
- Normandy Park
- Pierce County
Cities and counties yet to take action:
- Battle Ground
- Mercer Island
- Mount Vernon
- Port Angeles
- Spokane Valley
Regardless of any city and county laws, recreational marijuana remains a federal offense. Therefore, the right to possess marijuana does not apply when visiting national parks, forests, monuments, or any other federal or city-owned properties within the state.
Who can grow it?
Unlike in Colorado where residents can grow up to 6 plants for personal use, homegrown marijuana, whether for recreational use or sale, remains illegal in the state of Washington. Licensed marijuana growers and/or sellers are allowed to grow and/or sell cannabis from his or her home. However, cultivation of any amount of marijuana without a state issued producer license is a felony and if convicted, individuals may be subject to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Where to use it
On-site consumption of cannabis is prohibited at retail shops. Marijuana smoke is subject to the Washington “Smoking in Public Places” law (RCW 70.160) just as tobacco smoke is. This prohibits smoking in most public indoor spaces and places of employment. Likewise, marijuana consumption is illegal in any outdoor space if it is clearly visible from a public place.
Consuming or even opening a package containing cannabis, regardless of form, is prohibited in areas accessible to the general public such as bars, restaurants, state parks, and transit systems.
As stated in a memo from the Justice Department, “Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses.”
Cannabis consumption is reserved for private residences where the owner has allowed the use. Property owners can limit consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growth at his or her own discretion.
Public consumption of marijuana may result in a civil infraction and a $100 fine.
How to transport it
Transporting marijuana across state lines is illegal and may result in significant penalties.
Marijuana can be transported in cars but it must be enclosed in an opaque, child-resistant package; no open-air containers.
Marijuana consumption is illegal within a taxi, limousine, or any form of government-operated mass transportation. Likewise, it is illegal to consume marijuana in any privately-owned vehicle or boat. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, they will enforce federal law upon navigable waters.
Driving or operating a boat under the influence of marijuana is just as illegal as driving under the influence of alcohol. Both offenses can result in a DUI. Any individual age 21 years or older operating a vehicle with 5 nanograms or more of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their blood, is considered to be under the influence of marijuana. For minors under the age of 21, it is illegal to drive with any amount of THC in the bloodstream.
Penalties for driving while impaired include the revocation or suspension of driving privileges as well as vehicle and/or property seizure.
What are the penalties?
Penalties for marijuana-related infractions range from fines to possible jail or prison sentences depending on the severity of the offense and an individual’s number of past marijuana-related convictions.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has compiled a list detailing specific Washington laws and penalties. Likewise, the Seattle Police Department has addressed how its officers will be disciplining marijuana-related offenses. Additionally, check with each city’s municipal code for a detailed list of violations and penalties specific to that area’s jurisdiction.
What about the feds?
Under federal law, specifically the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is still illegal. However, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole released a memorandum allowing states to regulate the consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, and growth of marijuana. Therefore, the federal government will withhold prosecution so long as states’ laws remain “robust” and are abided.
For additional information, visit the Washington State Liquor Control Board.