In Washington, marijuana use for qualifying patients and adults aged 21 & above is legal. The Medical Use of Marijuana Act of 1998 permits patients with certain debilitating conditions, intractable pain, and terminal illnesses, to use medical marijuana. Also known as Initiative 692 (I-692), the Medical Use of Marijuana Act of 1998, was passed with nearly 60% of the vote. I-692 also provided qualified patients and their caregivers with legal safeguards for the possession and use of medicinal marijuana.
SB 5052 passed by the Washington Legislature in 2015 as the Cannabis Patient Protection Act (CPPA), established official state regulations for the production, possession, sale, and use of medical marijuana. Medical cannabis patients are permitted to buy up to three times the current limits of recreational marijuana. Washington only permits cannabis patients in the authorization database who hold medical marijuana identification cards to purchase cannabis products free of sales and use taxes. For adults, medical cards expire each year. For minors, medical cards expire six months while some healthcare providers specify earlier expiration dates.
Medical marijuana patients are permitted to buy and possess up to:
21 grams cannabis concentrate
6.4 liters of liquid marijuana-infused products
1.36 kilograms or 48 ounces of solid marijuana-infused products
85 grams or 3 ounces of marijuana
Under the state marijuana laws, both recreational and medical cannabis may only be legally purchased from any state-licensed retailer. A valid photo ID is required when purchasing on licensed retail premises. The ID card must prove that the individual is of legal age to purchase cannabis. Tribal ID cards may also be provided by purchasers if they meet the rules stipulated by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB). Tribal enrollment cards are permitted if:
The Tribe has informed the WSLCB that it plans to buy marijuana using the ID card.
The enrollment card includes a photograph, a signature, and the enrollee's date of birth.
The enrollment card has security measures similar to those found on state issued identification cards.
Initiative 502 (I-502), known as the Washington Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Initiative, was passed by voters in the statewide 2012 ballot with 55% of the vote. Washington legalized marijuana use and possession for individuals aged 21 and older and created a governing framework for the state's cannabis sector under I-502 rules and regulations.
I-502 legalized the manufacture, distribution, possession, and use of marijuana for adult use across the state of Washington. Additionally, I-502 vests the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board with the authority to license and regulate marijuana (WSLCB). Adults 21 years of age and older may buy marijuana for up to:
1 ounce (28.35 g) of useable marijuana
16 ounces (454 grams) of cannabis-infused solid edibles
2.13 liters of liquid cannabis
7 grams or a quarter ounce (0.25 oz) of cannabis concentrates
It is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis in Washington. Consumption of the product in a vehicle is also not allowed for both drivers and passengers. While consumers are permitted to carry cannabis in their vehicles, it must be in a sealed container or the trunk. Transporting any open box or container of cannabis or marijuana-infused products is prohibited.
Washington stipulates no more than 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood for driving persons. A blood test can be conducted at a medical facility or a police station. For persons under the age of 21, it is illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your blood. Washington State also advises at least 5 hours after inhalation to drive, and longer after consuming cannabis edibles. Currently, the cultivation of adult-use cannabis on private property for personal use is illegal in Washington. However, medical patients can grow six plants and have 8 ounces of usable marijuana at home. A healthcare practitioner may allow patients to grow up to 15 plants or generate up to 16 ounces (454 grams) of usable marijuana from their plants.
Washington has no specific law exempting felons from purchasing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. However, a felon may be subjected to a background check when applying for a medical marijuana card through a licensed physician. Washington State may also not issue a marijuana business license to individuals with felony convictions in the last 10 years. A point system may also restrict persons seeking to obtain commercial licenses with a combination of misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors in the last 3 years.
The legalization of cannabis has significant implications for the economies of many states where adult use of marijuana has been decriminalized. In Washington State, the economic contributions of the cannabis sector are strong and growing. According to a 2020 report by the Washington State University, the Washington Cannabis Sector contributed $1.85 billion to gross state product. Since its legalization, cannabis excise taxes grew by more than 750%, from $64.9 million in 2015 to $555.4 million in 2021. Here is a breakdown of marijuana sales and revenue in Washington since 2014/2015.
|Fiscal Year||Retail sales||Tax revenue||Licensing revenue||Total marijuana income|
The WSLCB annual reports also show the revenue distribution from 2015 to 2021.
|Fiscal year||General Fund||Basic Health||Cities & Counties||Education/Prevention||Research||Others|
*In 2020 and 2021, revenues disbursed for education, prevention, research, and other purposes were distributed to specific agencies and institutions in Washington. These agencies include the Wash State Health Care Authority, Department of Health, Washington State Patrol, University of Washington, Washington State University, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Ecology.
The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 69.50.540) contains the framework for allocating state expenditures financed by marijuana sales taxes and license fees. Since the legalization of marijuana in 2015 up until 2021, almost half of all marijuana earnings went to the Basic Health Plan Trust Account. The account was created to provide essential basic health care assistance to Washington State workers and other residents who lack health coverage.
In 2020, a Washington State University report revealed that the state’s cannabis sector produced over $600 million in direct value-added economic contribution for the state. That represents dollars that would not have existed in the state's economy without the sector's activity. In turn, direct contributions created another $286 million in indirect, business-to-business, value-added transactions. The whole sector in the state also supports 18,697 full-time equivalent jobs.
According to a Washington State University study, marijuana excise taxes continue to be the single biggest item in the Department of Revenue's General and Selective Sales Tax category. The total tax revenues generated by the cannabis sector in 2020 include property taxes, sales and excise taxes, and corporate and other taxes. A breakdown of the total $883.4 million tax revenue from the cannabis sector shows $248.4 million accruing from property taxes, $596.7 from sales and excise taxes, and $38.3 million from corporate and other taxes. On March 24, the Governor signed a new bill, Senate Bill 5796, to restructure the formula for cannabis excise tax distributions. Effective from June 9, 2022, the new bill will change how counties, cities, and towns in Washington state share tax revenues. More information on this will be provided soon.
Arrests for cannabis possession in 2010 were nearly three times more than the number recorded in 1986. In 1986, Washington Police made 24,000 low-level possession arrests. From 2006 to 2010, nearly 68,000 arrests were made. Between 1986 and 2010, approximately 240,000 marijuana possession arrests were in Washington.
Since Washington voters approved I-502, the initiative that legalized marijuana for adult use, court filings between 2011 and 2013 for low-level marijuana offenses for adults 21 years of age and older have dropped by 98%. A 2018 report by the University of Washington showed that all marijuana-related offenses reduced from 6336 incidents in 2012 to 2313 incidents in 2015. Furthermore, drug violations have gradually reduced from 2015 to 2021 according to the Washington Statistical Analysis Center. According to the state’s crime statistics, law enforcers recorded more than 30,000 drug violations in 2018, which is now down to 9,674 violations in 2021.
According to a 2015 report by the Drug Policy Alliance, many of Washington's marijuana arrests and convictions since possession became legal in December 2012, were for possessing more than the 1-ounce limit. The number of marijuana-related convictions in Washington reduced from 575 in 2011 to 111 in 2014 - a decrease of 81%.
Along with many other states in the United States, Washington prohibited the sales, use, and distribution of marijuana in the 1920s. The Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 3 in 1923 which classified cannabis as a narcotic drug. Anyone found in possession of the substance was punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison. About 50 years later, the state began to relax its cannabis laws. By 1971, Washington no longer classified the substance as a narcotic and made possession of 40 grams or less of the substance, a misdemeanor.
In 1998, Initiative 692 established an affirmative defense to violations of state laws governing the use and possession of marijuana for medical reasons. Qualifying patients or their designated primary caregivers were allowed to establish the defense if they possessed only the quantity of marijuana required for personal use, up to a 60-day supply, and provided they presented law enforcement officials with proper paperwork from a physician. I-692 passed with 69 percent of the vote.
In 2007, Senate Bill 6032 authorized the Washington Department of Health to develop regulations establishing a presumptive amount for a 60-day supply of marijuana for therapeutic use. SB 6032 further extended the list of medical illnesses for which marijuana use may be allowed and altered the requirements for physician documentation.
In 2010, SB 5798 expanded a list of professionals who may authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes to include all licensed healthcare professionals who have prescribing authority.
In 2011, Senate Bill 5073 created a regulatory framework to regulate the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana. SB 5073 also established a voluntary patient registry in which qualified patients and authorized physicians may enroll and be shielded from arrest and prosecution. Many sections of SB 5073 were vetoed due to concerns about possible federal prosecutions of state workers involved in the activities required to license marijuana production and dispensing businesses.
In 2012, Initiative 502 created a complete regulatory framework for marijuana cultivation and distribution, including wholesale and retail sales. It also authorized possession of marijuana for personal use for individuals aged 21 or older, provided the quantity is 1 ounce or less. I-502 dedicated a percentage of tax revenue for substance abuse prevention, research, education, and healthcare. I-502 was approved by 55.7% of voters.
SB 5052 incorporated the uncontrolled gray market for marijuana intended for medical purposes into the complete regulatory framework created by I-502. It requires licensed marijuana retailers to obtain a medical marijuana endorsement to sell medical-grade marijuana to qualifying patients and designated providers. SB 5052 created a voluntary database at the Washington Department of Health allowing patients to obtain recognition cards authorizing the possession of additional amounts of marijuana and exempting patients from paying retail sales tax. SB 5052 also replaced unregulated collective gardens and dispensaries with small patient cooperatives which are required to be registered with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB).
SB 5121 was also passed in 2015 to create a license to grow and possess marijuana for research purposes. It also authorizes the University of Washington and Washington State University to collaborate with marijuana research licensees for research purposes.
HB 2136 consolidates the 25% producer- and processor-level taxes into a 37% retail-level tax on the purchaser and establishes a sales and use tax exemption for patients who present a recognition card. Additionally, this 2015 legislation establishes a revenue sharing mechanism for marijuana taxes with local governments based on retail sales and population, and renames the Liquor Control Board the Liquor and Cannabis Board.
Nonetheless, in 2015, HB 2000 empowered the governor to negotiate agreements with federally recognized Indian tribes on any marijuana-related matter involving state and tribal interests or affecting tribal-state ties. Additionally, HB 2000 exempts tribes from state sales, excise, and use taxes on tribal commercial marijuana operations where such exemptions are incorporated in a tribal-state agreement.
In 2017, SB 5131 permitted patients and designated providers that are entered into the medical marijuana database to hold a recognition card to purchase immature plants, clones, or seeds from a licensed producer.
In 2019, HB 1094 was passed as the Compassionate Care Renewal Bill. This bill exempted patients under compassionate care renewals from having to appear in person when renewing their medical marijuana recognition card, allowing their designated provider to renew the cards on their behalf. HB 1095, also passed in 2019, set forth the rules in minor patients' access to medicinal marijuana in school settings. The Act required school districts to develop and implement policies that would allow designated providers, such as parents or legal guardians, to administer marijuana-infused products to their children for medical purposes while on school grounds.