The history of cannabis regulations in Washington is long and quite interesting. Washington state marijuana laws actually date back to the 1920s when the state was one of the first to criminalize possession.
Today, of course, Washington state is a leader in the push to decriminalize weed. Many Washington residents are free to purchase, possess, consume and grow cannabis as they wish. Today, it is the 3rd most popular drug in Washington as well as America as large.
Just because Washington marijuana laws have loosened up, however, doesn’t mean that there aren’t any restrictions. Weed enthusiasts still need to be aware of the state’s cannabis laws if they want to use the drug legally and responsibly.
This article will outline the laws in Washington state. We hope that it serves as a useful resource on cannabis laws for Washington residents and visitors.
It’s taken nearly a century for Washington state cannabis laws to go from prohibition to decriminalization.
Washington’s relationship with cannabis has been complex, to say the least. From raided dispensaries and high-profile possession cases to The Seattle Times advocating for medical use, there’s a long history of weed in Washington state.
1923: Washington state was one of the first states to criminalize pot. The state legislature characterized cannabis as a narcotic. Anyone caught with cannabis in their possession faced up to 10 years of jail time.
Although Washington laws deemed weed to be a narcotic, the law was rarely enforced in the region. During that period, there were very few arrests due to the fact that the drug was relatively uncommon in the area.
1971: Marijuana became more popular during the late 1960’s. As a result, the state loosened up their regulations. In 1971, the state government declared that possession of any less than 40 grams of pot was considered a misdemeanor.
The legislation also reclassified the drug, determining that it was no longer a narcotic substance.
Washington’s Controlled Substances Act, passed the same year, maintained that the drug carried a high risk of addiction. Therefore, It remained classified as a Schedule I drug.
1979: A Washington resident who suffered from multiple sclerosis was arrested for possession. Upon his appeal, the state recognized that cannabis could be used medical purposes under some conditions.
At the time, however, it was still very difficult for Washington residents to buy weed because there were no legal suppliers.
1995: Throughout the 1990’s, there were several illegal dispensaries in Washington. Although they were illegal, they weren’t targeted by state or local police departments.
In 1995, however, the Green Cross Patient Co-op was raided by the Bainbridge Island police department. The co-op provided low-cost and free weed to people suffering from terminal illnesses like MS, cancer, and AIDS.
Courts determined that the raid was executed without a proper warrant and the cannabis co-op returned to operation.
1997: As a result of the Green Cross Co-op raid, discussions about decriminalized weed began to arise in Washington. Initiative 685 (I-685), which would enable medical patients to obtain Schedule I drugs, appeared on a state ballot.
Washington residents rejected the initiative by a large margin.
1998: A new bill was proposed to decriminalize medical use in Washington. Initiative 692 (I-692) would enable patients with certain conditions to obtain legal prescriptions from their doctor.
The initiative was promoted by The Seattle Times. This was one of the first instances in history where a major publication advocated for a change in cannabis laws. The initiative was passed.
2011: By 2010, there were nearly 150 medical dispensaries in Washington state. The problem was that, at the time, dispensaries were not explicitly permitted by law.
In response, U.S Attorney Michael Ormsby declared that all dispensaries must stop operating in order to avoid prosecution. 15 dispensaries in Washington were raided during the latter part of the year.
2012: Initiative 502 (i-502), which aimed to legalize possession in Washington state, was passed. Along with Colorado, Washington was among the first to legalize recreational weed.
Under the law, adults could possess as much as 1 ounce of weed without facing prosecution.
At the time, however, Washington cannabis laws stated that growing, selling, or even giving someone weed was still illegal.
2013: The federal government declared that it would allow states to determine their own cannabis laws without interference.
As a result, Washington state started taking applications for weed-related businesses including farms and dispensaries.
Since 2012, Washington state marijuana laws have allowed for medical recreational cannabis use. The decriminalization of weed followed nearly 100 years of struggle between the government and cannabis advocates over the drug’s legality.
It was eventually legalized after the approval of Initiative 502 (i-502). This bill enables Washington residents and tourists over the age of 21 to possess small quantities of weed without facing prosecution.
I-502 is the initiative that had the biggest impact on Washington state cannabis laws. The initiative resulted in decriminalized weed in Washington.
Essentially, the i-502 cannabis initiative proposed the following:
Legal purchasing: Adults over the age of 21 are allowed to purchase marijuana from a licensed retailer.
Decriminalized weed possession: Individuals can possess less than 40 grams of marijuana, 72 ounces of liquid products or 16 ounces of solid products.
Legal distribution: Retailers, such as dispensaries, growers and processors can practice as long as they held a license. The license would cost $250 and carry a $1,000 annual renewal fee.
Selling or distributing it without a license remains illegal.
Distribution regulations: Regulations are established to prevent growers and processed from holding any financial interest in retail operations (similar to alcohol regulations in many states).
Taxes: Sales of the drug are taxed. All revenue obtained by the Washington liquor control board (who is responsible for the regulation of distribution) is placed into a fund.
This fund goes directly to health care, drug addiction treatment and research around cannabis and its effects.
Safety laws: Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal and carries charges similar to those of drunk driving.
Anyone found with THC levels greater than 4.9 ng/mL in their blood are charged with a DUI.
Washington state marijuana laws, as well as the penalty for breaking those laws, vary depending on the circumstances. Possession, distribution, and growing (or “cultivation”) each have their own regulations.
Similarly, the amount of pot that is considered legal under Washington state cannabis law depends on the form that the drug is in. The legal quantity that an individual may carry is different for traditional, smokable pot than it is for cannabis-infused products.
If an individual is using cannabis for personal use, the Washington state’s marijuana possession laws are as follows:
1 ounce or less (private): Individuals are allowed to consume it privately as long as they have less than 1 oz (40 grams) of weed in their possession. They must also show no intention of distributing it without a proper license.
1 ounce or less (public): Consuming it in public is still considered a civil penalty. If an individual is stopped for smoking weed in public, they may be given a fine of no more than $100.
Of course, the $100 fine is only applicable in cases where the person has less than 1 ounce (40 grams) in their possession.
1 ounce: According to Washington state cannabis law, an individual will be charged with a misdemeanor if they are caught with 1 ounce (40 grams) of pot in their possession. This crime carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 24 hours in jail. It is also punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
More than 1 ounce: Having more than 1 ounce (4 grams) of marijuana in your possession is a felony under Washington state cannabis laws. This crime is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Since it was decriminalized in Washington and dispensaries have become more common, we’ve seen the rise of cannabis-infused products. These products include everything from “edibles” (food products that contain cannabis) to liquid “tinctures”, concentrates and cannabis ointments.
Do the marijuana laws in Washington state apply to edibles and products other than smokable weed?
Well, yes. According to the state, their regulations apply to every part of the cannabis plant. This includes the resins that are extracted from the plant and any other chemicals that derive from it. It is these resins and chemical derivatives that are used to make the concentrates found in candy, baked goods, oils and other common products.
So, while the Washington state smoking laws are different than those which apply to cannabis-infused products, regulations still apply. They are as follows:
Edibles (16 ounces or less): The Washington edibles limit is 16 ounces. When it comes to edible cannabis and cannabis-infused products in solid form, you can’t possess more than that amount.
According to Washington state marijuana laws, as long as an individual has less than 16 ounces in their possession, they’re not doing anything illegal.
Liquid cannabis products (72 ounces or less): Washington state cannabis laws deem that 72 oz is the maximum amount of liquid products that one individual can possess. This regulation applies to teas, juices, lemonades, sodas and other drinks that contain cannabis extract.
Cannabis concentrates (7 grams or less): Cannabis concentrates, in their raw form or as a product, carry a limit of 7 grams or less. Under Washington state marijuana laws, any individual who is found with more than 7 grams of cannabis concentrate on their person may face a penalty.
Hash (40 grams or less): Because hash is a cannabis derivative, Washington state laws apply to the substance.
Any individual found with more than 40 grams of hash on their person will be charged with a felony. This crime is punishable according to Washington state laws and can result in 5 years jail time and/or a $10,000 fine.
Unlicensed sales, distribution or manufacture: Anyone who is caught selling, making or distributing cannabis-infused products without the proper license will be sentenced with a felony. Under Washington state laws, this crime carries a punishment of as many as 5 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Intent to distribute, manufacture or sell: Washington state considers the attempt to distribute a very serious crime.
If law enforcement and the court system determine that an individual has the intent to sell cannabis-infused products, the individual can face jail time.
It may come as a surprise that cooking your own edibles is illegal under Washington state cannabis laws. In order to make any marijuana-infused food products, you need to be a licensed cannabis processor.
The state maintains strict processing regulations because safety is one of their biggest concerns. If Washington residents and tourists are going to be using them, the state wants to make sure that all weed products are properly tested and labeled. They also want to ensure that no product contains an unsafe amount of cannabis or THC.
If you want to use edibles or other cannabis-infused products, therefore, stick to the ones you can buy at the dispensary.
Washington state marijuana laws uphold that only those above the age of 21 are allowed to purchase cannabis. People under the legal age in Washington will face serious consequences if they’re caught under the influence of weed or with it in their possession.
If you’re caught in possession while under the legal age, you could face the following punishments:
First offense: If you are under the legal age and caught in possession one time, you will have your driving privileges revoked for 1 year or until you are 17 years old (whichever comes first).
Second offense: If you are under the legal age and caught in possession a subsequent time, you’ll have your driving privileges revoked for 2 years or until you are 18 years old (whichever comes first).
Involving someone under the age of 18 in a drug crime is a serious offense. If someone is caught violating Washington state marijuana laws in a way that involves a minor (either through payments, solicitations, threats, etc), they will be charged with a felony. Selling to minors or involving them in the sale or distribution of weed is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Only licensed marijuana retailers are permitted to sell weed in Washington. In order to obtain a license, potential retailers must pay an application fee of $200 dollars along with an annual renewal fee of $1,000. The application process includes a number of steps and can take several weeks.
If you want to sell weed or weed products in Washington, you must be over the age of 21. The state government will also ask you for your fingerprints so that they can conduct a criminal background check.
Anyone who is caught selling cannabis or cannabis products without a license can face up to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
As pointed out above, you can still get into some legal trouble even with the relatively loose weed laws in Washington. Anyone who violates weed regulations by possessing too much weed or growing, distributing or cannabis illegally will be charged with a VUSCA violation. VUSCA stands for “Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act”. VUSCA violations are classified into several categories ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.
VUSCA charges are applicable to every illicit substance, including cannabis. VUSCA charges are serious offenses that you should avoid having on your record.
According to i-502, you can only grow weed in Washington if you have an i-502 grower’s license. Unless you’ve been licensed as a marijuana “producer”, you are not allowed to even raise pot plants.
There are a few stipulations in regards to people that hold a medical prescription (see “Can Medical Marijuana Users Grow Weed at Home?” below).
If you are caught growing (or “cultivating”, as the law puts it) cannabis, you can face some pretty serious jail time. Illegal cultivation will result in a felony punishable by as many as 5 years in jail. This sentence also carries a fine as large as $10,000.
Individuals who are found to be growing marijuana in any of these locations can face a much larger sentence. The fine and amount of prison time may be doubled in these cases.
Unlike residents of other states, Washington residents are currently prohibited from cultivating their own cannabis without an i-502 grower’s license The struggle between homegrown weed advocates and the state government continues up to this day.
In 2018, for example, advocates for home-grown weed proposed Bill 2559 which would allow all residents to grow up to 6 plants if they wished. The bill also grants landlords permission to ban tenants from growing cannabis on the property.
As of the time of this publication, Bill 2559 allowing for the non-medical home cultivation of cannabis has not been passed. Those in opposition to the bill fear that homegrown cannabis would give children easier access to the drug. They also worry that the smell could become a problem for neighbors and the surrounding community.
Under Washington state cannabis laws, users cannot grow cannabis to be used for recreational purposes without and i-502 grower’s license. Medical marijuana users, on the other hand, are allowed to do so under certain conditions.
In order to grow their own cannabis, medical users must have a written recommendation from their physician. They must have a diagnosed medical condition that qualifies them to grow it. If they are given permission to cultivate cannabis, they are allowed to grow as many as 15 plants.
Of course, in order for the individual to legally grow in Washington state, they must not have any intention to share it, sell it or give it away to anyone else.
A medical card is a license that allows someone to purchase weed for medicinal purposes. Oftentimes, the individual’s insurance provider will cover the cost of the purchase. Those who are prescribed medical cannabis can legally possess up to 24 ounces of cannabis (in addition to the 15 plants discussed above) at any given time.
In order to obtain a license to use medical cannabis in Washington, you must suffer from a terminal or debilitating medical condition. This condition must be severe enough to inhibit your ability to function properly.
Your doctor will assess your condition and determine whether or not they believe medical marijuana will be of benefit to your well-being. If they deem that the drug would help you, they will grant you approval for a medical license.
In order for a doctor to authorize a prescription, they must be able to demonstrate that no other existing medications were capable of treating the patient’s symptoms.
Currently, Washington state laws restrict doctors from prescribing it for mental health conditions. According to the Washington State Department of Health, this is, “Due to a lack of scientific evidence supporting improved health outcomes from the use of marijuana for mental health conditions”.
There have been several petitions for mental health conditions to be added to the list of qualifying symptoms. As of the publication of this article, however, these petitions have all been denied.
Just because marijuana is decriminalized in Washington state doesn’t mean that you are allowed to use it wherever you want. Obviously, most businesses don’t want you hanging out front smoking a joint simply because you’re allowed to.
The only place that you’re 100% safe smoking pot is on private property (with permission if it’s not your property). In order to do so legally, it is important that the general public does not see or smell you smoking.
According to Washington state marijuana laws, there is a long list of places where you are not allowed to smoke pot. You are not permitted to smoke pot in public or where the smoke might affect members of the public.
Under Washington state smoking laws, you are also not permitted to smoke weed in any of the following places:
Additionally, you must abide by the policies of private businesses. If a company doesn’t want you smoking cigarettes on their property, they most likely don’t want you to smoke weed there, either.
Washington state smoking laws declare that if you are caught smoking marijuana in public, you can be fined. Anyone found smoking pot publicly can be charged with a civil penalty and be granted a fine of $100.
Additionally, when you are caught smoking in a public place, you may be searched. If a police officer has reason to suspect that you possess more than 1 oz (40 grams) on your person, they may search you. This, obviously, could lead to more serious problems.
In certain cases, smoking marijuana in national parks or on other federal property is a serious crime. If federal agents catch you smoking weed on federal land, you can lose you can be given a citation, a community service sentence or even a driver’s license suspension.
If you’re visiting a national park or forest in Washington state, therefore, do yourself a favor and leave the pot at home.
Washington state marijuana laws declare that driving under the influence of cannabis is a punishable crime. Driving high is as dangerous and irresponsible as driving drunk and the law treats it as such.
If you’re caught driving under the influence of weed, you’ll face the following consequences:
First offense: The first time you’re caught drugged driving, you’ll face a prison sentence of no less than 24 hours and no more than 1 year. In some cases, electronic home monitoring may be substituted for prison time. Additionally, you’ll be fined for driving under the influence of marijuana. The fine will be no less than $350 and no more than $5000.
You’ll also have your license suspended for 90 days and may be required to have an anti-intoxication device installed in the ignition of your car.
Second Offense: If you are caught driving under the influence of cannabis a second time, you’ll be sent to prison for no less than 30 days. Your sentence can last as long as one year with an additional 60 days of house arrest. You will receive a find of no less than $500 and no more than $5,000.
Additionally, you may have your driver’s license suspended for 2 years and your vehicle will be subject to seizure and forfeiture. Upon the completion of your suspension, you will be required to have an anti-intoxication device installed on your car’s ignition.
Third/fourth offense: When you are caught driving under the influence of marijuana three or more times within a 7-year period of time, you will be sentenced to prison. Your prison sentence will be no less than 90 days and no longer than 1 year. The prison sentence will be supplemented by 120 days of house arrest.
Third or fourth-time drugged driving offenders can also receive a fine no less than $1,000 and a 3-year license suspension. The offender’s vehicle will be subject to forfeiture. Upon the completion of their license suspension, the offender will be required to have an anti-intoxication device installed in their car.
In Washington state, unlike other cities, police departments are not allowed to establish sobriety checkpoints. However, if you drive in Washington, you give automatic consent to the police to test you for intoxication.
Essentially, this means that if you are pulled over by the police, they are allowed to administer a breathalyzer or blood test. This enables them to find out how much marijuana is in your system when they pull you over. In order for a police officer to pull you over, they must have reasonable grounds to think that you are driving under the influence.
If the officer has reasonable grounds and administers a drug test and you are convicted, you will be charged a mandatory fee to cover the costs of the test. The cost of an officially-administered drug test in Washington state is $200.
Delivery and transportation services must be licensed in order to practice. Under Washington state marijuana laws, no individual can transport or deliver cannabis, cannabis derivative, cannabis-infused products or cannabis concentrates unless they hold a state-issued transportation license.
Additionally, Washington delivery companies and transporters may only provide services to licensed businesses. Any delivery service or transporter caught acting in violation of these regulations can be charged with a VUSCA offense and will be charged accordingly.
Washington state maintains a relatively unique “first-time offender waiver” rule. This rule helps people who are convicted of their first felony to get a reduced sentence. While first-time offenders will still experience some jail time and even a fine, they may spend less time in prison than they would if they were a repeat offender.
But does the first-time offender waiver apply to people who violate marijuana laws in Washington state?
In short, sometimes. Many folks who commit cannabis-related crimes are eligible for a first-time offender waiver. Chapter 9.94A of Washington state legislature touches specifically on cannabis sales. It says that felons are ineligible to receive the waiver if they are convicted of “(d) The selling for profit of any controlled substance or counterfeit substance classified in Schedule I..except leaves and flowing tops of marijuana…”.
Under Washington state law, therefore, people convicted of selling pot for the first time may be able to get their sentence reduced.
At the same time, however, the state legislature goes onto say that felons who are convicted of “(e) Felony driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or felony physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug”.
According to this section of the law, then, people who are convicted of driving under the influence may not be eligible for the first time waiver. Those who drugged drive, therefore, may get their full prison sentence.
In 1995, the Washington state government developed the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) in an attempt to help rehabilitate criminals with drug addictions. DOSA gives judges the ability to grant criminals with a reduced prison sentence if they agree to complete a drug rehab program. When sentenced under DOSA, addicts are given the opportunity to serve a shorter sentence followed by a period of drug rehabilitation.
Most often, judges will offer a DOSA sentence to felony offenders who committed a crime that involved small amounts of drugs. It is also common for judges to offer it to criminals who are convicted of stealing money or property in order to buy drugs. DOSA is not offered to people who are charged with violent crimes.
We’ve seen plenty of DOSA sentences offered to criminals that violate Washington state marijuana laws. Given that the majority of marijuana-related crimes are non-violent, DOSA is a way to help people overcome their addictions.
Even when DOSA is not granted, people who violate Washington state marijuana laws may be sentenced to mandatory rehab. This is particularly common in cases where the addict’s crimes are caused by their chemical dependency on the drug. If an addict commits a robbery in order to buy drugs or a DUI because they are unable to function without their drug of choice, the court may sentence them to mandatory rehab.
Someone who is given a 5-year prison sentence because they violated Washington state laws, for example, could be required to attend rehab after they completed their sentence. This enables the addict to rehabilitate from their addiction before they enter back into everyday society.
You have certain legal rights that enable you to confidential drug treatment. Your employer, for example, cannot punish you for taking medical leave. Because drug addiction is a medical condition, you are free to take time off for rehabilitation as long as you meet the requirements for eligibility (such as working at the company for 6 months before taking time off, etc).
Your employer cannot legally share information gathered from your insurance records, either. You have the right to seek treatment for your addiction without having to worry about that information being shared with others.
Additionally, it is entirely illegal for any prospective employer to ask you about your history of drug use. As long as you aren’t using drugs when you are hired by them, you have the right to complete confidentiality.
Although Washington state marijuana laws are much less restrictive than they once were, weed can still be a dangerous drug. Much like alcohol, it is legal but carries a high risk of abuse and addiction. While your habit might seem harmless now, abusing the drug could lead to any number of legal or health consequences down the road.
Rehab is a fantastic option for people who struggle with addiction. In drug rehab, patients work to overcome their chemical dependence on marijuana. They address the psychological roots of their addiction and strive to develop techniques for living a drug-free life.
If you’ve come here looking for information about Washington state marijuana laws, it’s possible that your struggle with a chemical dependency on the drug.
We know that the drug is decriminalized. However, we also know that millions of people suffer from addiction. Over time, the drug can take a toll on your physical, emotional and professional well-being. It can have pretty severe consequences in your life.
At Northpoint Washington, we help addicts find the path to a happier, healthier life. If you’d like to discuss your drug habits or talk about potential treatment options, please give us a call.
Disclaimer: Northpoint Recovery does not advocate for the use of any psychoactive substances including marijuana. Both CBD and THC can have detrimental side effects on the body and mind of the user. However, we know that the drug is legalized for adult consumption in Washington state. We believe it is our duty, therefore, to educate our community on state laws concerning consumption and possession of the drug.
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