Washington Marijuana Laws

Key Points

  • Washington state residents can use legal amounts of recreational and medical cannabis.
  • Individuals must be 21 years and older to use marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. Minors registered for the medical marijuana program in Washington state can also use marijuana under the watch of designated caregivers.
  • Eligible patients must not possess more than three ounces of medical marijuana while adults aged 21 years and above must only carry one ounce or recreational marijuana.
  • Only individuals and businesses licensed by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board can cultivate marijuana. Medical patients can also grow up to four cannabis plants in their private residences.
  • Persons convicted for violating marijuana laws in Washington state may face misdemeanor- or felony-related penalties.

Is Marijuana Legal in Washington?

Yes, marijuana is legal in Washington for both medicinal and adult (recreational) use. Medical marijuana was legalized in 1998 with the passage of the Medical Use of Marijuana Act. The Act enabled patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana as treatment and also afforded patients and caregivers legal protections in the state. Registration in the state medical marijuana program is voluntary in Washington. Registered patients can possess up to:

  • 3 (85g) ounces of usable marijuana flower
  • 48 ounces of marijuana-infused solid product
  • 1.69 gallons (6.4 liters) of marijuana-infused liquid product
  • 21g of marijuana concentrates

Medical marijuana patients entered in the state register can also cultivate up to 6 plants and possess up to 8 ounces from their plants in their domicile. Patients not entered into the state registry can grow up to 4 plants and possess up to 6 ounces of usable marijuana from their plants.

Initiative 502 - the Washington Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Initiative became law on December 6, 2012, and legalized adult-use marijuana in the state. The measure made it legal to produce, possess, deliver, and distribute marijuana in Washington. It legalized the sale of specific quantities of cannabis products to adults aged 21 years and above for their personal use and in private. It also established the system for regulating the production and sale of recreational marijuana in the state.

In Washington, adults 21 years and older can legally possess up to:

  • 1 ounce (28g) of usable cannabis flower
  • 16 ounces of cannabis-infused product in solid form
  • 72 fluid ounces of cannabis-infused product in liquid form
  • 7g of cannabis concentrate.

Individuals are only allowed to possess marijuana products and paraphernalia but can not cultivate marijuana plants in their private residence. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) licenses and regulates all marijuana-related activities in the state.

Washington Marijuana Laws in 2024

Marijuana is fully legal in Washington as the state permits its use for medical purposes and, by adults over the age of 21, for recreational purposes. The Medical Use of Marijuana Act established the use of marijuana as an alternative medical treatment for debilitating health conditions in the state in 1998. Adult-use marijuana was legalized in 2012 when 56% of the ballot supported the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Initiative. Legal sales of weed to the public by recreational cannabis stores officially commenced on July 8, 2014. Washington was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use and the second, after Colorado, to allow sales.

The Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Initiative (MLRI) empowered the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), formerly known as the Liquor Control Board, to regulate the Washington marijuana industry. The MLRI established a wide-ranging regulatory structure that licenses producers, processors, and retailers. It also established maximum quantities that persons in the state could legally possess. The passage of the Cannabis Patient Protection Act (CPPA) in 2015 subsumed the production and sales of medical marijuana into the same structure. The LCB now regulates the production and sales of medical marijuana, as well as recreational marijuana, in Washington. The CPPA was established to create standards for cannabis businesses pertaining to the production, possession, sales, and use of medical marijuana in the state.

In recent years, Washington State lawmakers filed some amendment bills to the state’s marijuana laws. These include:

Senate Bill 5123

This bill sought to make it illegal for employers to discriminate against applicants with a history of legal cannabis consumption. SB 5123 was prefiled on December 30, 2022 and had its first reading on January 9, 2023. It was discussed and approved by both the House and Senate and was signed into law on May 9, 2023 by the governor.

House Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 5547

Both HB 1668 and SB 5547 were first introduced in December 2021. The two bills aim to regulate the sale of hemp and cannabinoid products in Washington. According to both bills, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board will be authorized to regulate the following products:

  • Products composed of cannabinoids like delta-8, which has impairing effects.
  • Cannabinoids-containing products with THC content above 0.3.
  • Cannabinoids-containing products with impairing effects that have more than 0.5 milligrams per serving.

Senate Bill 5517

SB 5517 would make it illegal for companies to reject or decline to accept a potential employee because of the discovery of marijuana in a drug test. In cases where some employees may be rejected for jobs because they use cannabis, SB 5517 would make it possible for those who use cannabis to find work.

House Bill 1667

Introduced in December 2021, the bill will change the conditions of ownership set by the WSLCB. According to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, everyone who owns, operates, or is eligible to get a portion of the revenue from a registered marijuana business must reside in Washington. The licenses must also be granted in the names of the actual people who possess them.

In the new bull, only natural individuals owning more than 10% of the license must be included on it; if no one owns more than 10% the license must list the owner with the highest ownership stake. The WSLCB would need to know who held less than 10 percent of the total shares.

Additionally, a non-resident may control over 10% of a registered company as long as the WSLCB has the same investigative powers as they would have with a resident. The new bill also requires that the WSLCB create a form specifically for organizations looking for marijuana licenses.

Timeline of Cannabis Law in Washington

  • 1923: The beginning of marijuana ban in Washington can be traced to 1923 after being classified as a narcotic.
  • 1971: Legislators in Washington introduced the first decriminalization law, which reduced marijuana possession of not more than 40 grams to a misdemeanor offense.
  • 1998: The majority of Washington voters approved Initiative 692 to legalize medical marijuana. The massive support may be attributed to a legal battle in 1995 involving a resident using marijuana after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
  • 2011: Washington activists introduced Initiative 502 to legalize recreational marijuana for persons above 21 years.
  • 2012: More than 55% of voters supported the ballot measure created to allow adults without a prescription to use marijuana.
  • 2016: Senators introduced and approved Senate Bill 6206, allowing hemp cultivation in Washington state. Effective in June 2016, the bill created the state’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot (IHRP)
  • 2023: Washington State legislature approves SB 5123 to stop employers from discriminating against applicants for legally consuming cannabis.

Federal Legalization of Weed in 2024

Although adult-use marijuana is now legal in Washington, it is still prohibited at the federal level. In 2018, the US Farm Bill legalized use and cultivation of low-THC cannabis, also known as hemp. A year later, the US House of Representatives presented the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in a bid to legalize recreational and medical marijuana. The 2019 MORE Act was passed by the House in 2020 but filed to gain approval from the Senate. In 2022, the House moved forward with another MORE Act, which seeks to:

  • Remove cannabis from the illicit drugs list in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.
  • Eliminate cannabis-related federal offense penalties.
  • Expunge previous marijuana convictions.
  • Permit other states to develop their own regulatory frameworks free from federal interference.
  • Prevent non-citizens from suffering immigration consequences as a result of using and possessing marijuana.
  • Stop federal organizations from refusing qualified applicants access to school loans, government benefits, or jobs because they consume marijuana.
  • Support community social services that have been impacted by the protracted war on drugs through a federal excise tax of 5% on marijuana sales.

Meanwhile, the US Senate is also working on its own marijuana legislation bill known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). Like the MORE Act, this bill will delist cannabis from the DEA’s Schedule 1 drugs and allow states to legalize marijuana without federal interference. The CAO Act will also resolve a number of issues that are currently plaguing legislated state cannabis markets. Examples of those issues include:

  • Lack of financial services accessibility.
  • Federal tax returns on marijuana establishments.
  • Absence of uniform federal administrative regulations and standards.

If enacted into law, the bill will promote inclusion and diversity among licensed business owners in supervised cannabis markets and designates cash to be reinvested in regions that have been unduly disadvantaged by the War on Drugs.

The US President has also helped increase the prospect of federal legalization by issuing a marijuana reform executive order in October 2022. The executive action will pardon persons convicted of simple marijuana possession and other states to carry out similar state pardons. President Biden also asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review how cannabis is scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act.

Can I Use Cannabis?

Yes, Washington allows residents above the age of 21 to legally use cannabis within a specified limit. Minors are not permitted to use cannabis in Washington. However, patients younger than 18 years old can have their parents or legal guardians register themselves and the patients as well. Medical patients must receive written certification from registered practitioners before applying for registration with the Board of Pharmacy.

Although marijuana was a popular ingredient in many medicinal products sold openly in public pharmacies in the 19th century, by the 20th century it had been labeled a banned substance. Following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded into the United States, introducing the recreational use of marijuana to American culture. The drug became associated with immigrants, and the fear and prejudice about the immigrants were also linked with marijuana. Anti-marijuana campaigners warned against the ravaging "marijuana menace", and terrible crimes were attributed to marijuana and the Mexicans who used it.

Amid the Great Depression, public and governmental concerns about marijuana escalated with a flurry of research linking the use of marijuana with violence, crime, and other socially deviant behaviors. By 1921, 29 states had banned marijuana. In 1937, the United States Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively criminalizing marijuana and restricting the use of the drug. Possession of marijuana was restricted to individuals who paid an excise tax for certain authorized medical and industrial uses.

How The Legal Sale Of Cannabis Happens In Washington

In Washington, the legal sale of cannabis can only be to adults 21 years and above or persons with valid medical marijuana recognition cards. Only licensed cannabis stores are allowed to sell cannabis products and paraphernalia to the public. Cannabis is a federally illegal substance and most banks will not do business directly with cannabis operations because of possible federal government sanctions. As such, most cannabis transactions are in cash because securing merchant services to accept debit cards and online payments would be too costly. Some cannabis businesses in Washington might accept credit card and cashier check payments

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) regulates all cannabis sales in the state and issues licenses to cannabis retailers. Licensed cannabis retailers must purchase their products from either licensed producers or licensed processors in the state. Cannabis stores can sell to both recreational and medical users, but persons with valid medical marijuana cards are exempt from the 37% adult-use excise tax. Cannabis stores can not sell any other products on the premises and must have purchase limits to ensure their customers are not breaking the law. The following cannabis products are legal for sale in Washington:

  • Flower - The harvested cannabis bud, which makes up more than 50% of cannabis sales in the state.
  • Vape - An electronic device used to heat up and inhale the vapor from oily cannabis distillates packaged in interchangeable cartridges.
  • Concentrates - Broad category of cannabis products that include wax, hash oil, and live resin. They are created using various extraction techniques to refine the desired compounds in the plants.
  • Edibles - Cannabis-infused edible products, such as cookies, brownies, and candy.
  • Paraphernalia - Any equipment that is used to produce, conceal, or consume cannabis.

Washington offers different types of licenses to state residents through the LCB. An applicant must be at least 21 years to qualify for a cannabis business license in Washington. The applicant must also have been a legal resident for the prior six months and must maintain residency to retain the license.

There is a $250 fee for all new applications and a $1,381 fee for license renewals. A person can hold both producer and processor licenses, but they can not sell to the public directly (retail). A person with a retail license can not hold a producer or processor license. Persons can hold up to three types of licenses. The Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) prepared a list of applicable regulations for marijuana businesses and the government agencies responsible for enforcement. The Interagency Resource for Achieving Cooperation, alongside a partnership of Washington municipalities and industry representatives, also released a manual for the regulatory guidance for cannabis operations.

Penalties for Marijuana-related Crimes in Washington

While marijuana is technically legal in Washington, it is still a controlled substance, and adults are legally required to carry specific amounts. Adults who violate Washington state marijuana possession laws by purchasing cannabis in quantities higher than the specified amount can be arrested and charged, based on the circumstances.

What Are Cannabis Possession Charges In Washington?

Washington adults aged 21 years and older, can possess up to 1 ounce (28.35g) of marijuana for private consumption. Possession of more than 1 ounce of cannabis, and up to 40g, is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and 24 hours to 90 days jail time. Possession of over 40g of cannabis is a felony in Washington, with a fine of $10,000 and a maximum jail time of 5 years. Medical marijuana patients can legally possess up to 3 ounces (85g) of cannabis but must be able to show valid registration IDs.

Possession With The Intent To Distribute In Washington

Washington state marijuana distribution laws prohibit the sales and distribution of cannabis without the requisite license is illegal. Unlicensed sales or distribution of any amount of marijuana in Washington is a felony, punishable by a $10,000 fine and a maximum jail time of 5 years. If the sale is to a minor, at least 3 years younger than the offender, the fine is $10,000, but maximum jail time increases to 10 years.

Marijuana Cultivation In Washington

The cultivation or production of marijuana without a license from the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) is prohibited. This is a felony and carries a $10,000 fine and a maximum 5-year jail term. This also applies to unlicensed cannabis processors. Medical marijuana patients (or their caregivers) are legally permitted to cultivate up to 6 plants in their private residence. Marijuana cultivation by private individuals is only allowed for medical use, and recreational users can not grow marijuana legally.

Fines and jail terms may be doubled if any of these activities are carried out within any designated drug-free zones. These include public parks, public transportation, public housing projects specified as drug-free zones, and within 1000 feet of a school or school bus stop.

Marijuana Consumption In Washington

Public consumption of cannabis is a civil infraction and carries a maximum fine of $100. Examples of public places where it is illegal to smoke weed in Washington include sidewalks, parks, ski resorts, and public hiking trails. The Washington Smoking in Public Places Law also prohibits consumption on the premises of employment and other establishments where marijuana is not allowed. Since cannabis possession is still a federal offense, consuming marijuana on federal properties may attract severe punishments by federal authorities.

Hash And Concentrates

Hash or concentrate is a highly potent cannabis extract that is basically a concentrated mass of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (cannabidiol). THC levels in hash or concentrates can typically range from 40 - 80%, with some concentrates reportedly containing as much as 99.58% THC. Adult users are legally allowed to possess up to 7g of marijuana concentrate in Washington, while valid medical marijuana patients can possess up to 21g. Possession of more than these quantities is a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine.

Possession of over 40g of hash or concentrates is a felony in Washington, punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to 5 years in jail. The unlawful manufacture, sale, and delivery of hash and concentrates is also a felony with a 5-year jail term and a $10,000 fine.

Is Gifting Marijuana A Crime In Washington?

Adults, 21 and over, and patients with valid registry ID cards can obtain marijuana and gift it to other adults in the state. This is provided the quantities involved do not exceed the legal limits for recreational and medical marijuana in the state. Marijuana gifts that exceed either recreational (28.35g) or medical (85g) limits can result in a $10,000 fine and a 5-year jail term.

Is Transportation Of Marijuana Legal In Washington?

Adults and MMJ patients in Washington can transport legal quantities of marijuana within the state, but transportation across state lines is prohibited. This includes sending marijuana through the mail to out-of-state recipients, and both the sender and recipient may be liable for criminal charges in both states. Cannabis must be transported in a sealed container or the trunk of the user's vehicle. Also, it is a federal crime to transport marijuana out of state, as it is still a schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law.

What Is The Legal Implication Of Driving Under The Influence Of Marijuana In Washington

It is illegal for the driver or passenger to use cannabis inside a motor vehicle, even if the vehicle is parked. Washington State marijuana limitations for motorists while operating a vehicle is five nanograms per millimeter (5ng/mm) in the bloodstream. According to state law, consent to a breath or blood test by any person operating a motor vehicle in Washington is required. As such, any person who operates a motor vehicle is deemed to have given consent to a breath or blood test. This is to determine their blood alcohol concentration or the presence of any drugs that can impair their ability to handle machinery. Penalties for cannabis DUIDs are:

First Offense

  • No less than 24 hours and no more than one year jail time
  • No less than $350 fine and no more than $5,000 fine
  • 90-day license suspension

Second Offense (within 7 years)

  • Between 30 days and one year imprisonment
  • No less than $500 and no more than $5,000 fine
  • 2-year license suspension
  • Vehicle subject to seizure and forfeiture

Third or Fourth Offense (within 7 years)

  • Between 90 days and one year imprisonment
  • No less than $1,000 and no more than $5,000 fine
  • Vehicle subject to seizure and forfeiture
  • 3-year license revocation.

Confiscation Of Assets

According to Section 69.50.505 of the Revised Code of Washington, assets involved in marijuana offenses are subject to seizure. As such, the state police may keep or sell confiscated assets like real estate properties and cars. Also, violators of Washington State marijuana trafficking laws may lose monies proven to be proceeds of the offense to law enforcers.

Possible Remedies For Violators Of Washington Marijuana Laws

Marijuana offenders in Washington can avoid losing their properties, serving jail terms, and paying fines by consulting drug defense lawyers. With the help of such defense lawyers, defendants can negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor or prove their innocence in court. To prove a defendant’s innocence or get a plea bargain, the defense lawyer can provide evidence to prove that:

  • The defendant is not the owner of the drug
  • Arresting officers carried out an illegal search or ignored the defendant’s rights.
  • The defendant did not know about the illegal drug.

An alternative to fighting a marijuana offense in court in Washington is applying for available drug court programs. Washington counties like Clark, Skagit, Spokane, and King operate drug court programs for first-time or young marijuana offenders. Courts in these counties approve the pre-sentencing program for eligible offenders to allow them get drug treatment and counseling instead of jail sentences. Offenders who complete the program and meet other requirements may get their charges dismissed by the court.

Some marijuana law violators may be eligible for the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA). Unlike drug courts, DOSA is a post-sentencing program for persons already convicted. If eligible for DOSA, convicted persons may get their jail sentence reduced by 50%. Rather than serve the complete prison term, marijuana offenders will attend outpatient treatment centers and complete community services.

What is Washington's Cannabis History?

Washington State, like most of the states in the United States, criminalized marijuana in the 1920s. House Bill 3 of 1923, passed by the state legislature, defined cannabis as a narcotic drug largely because of its association with Mexican-American immigrants. This effectively prohibited the sale and possession of marijuana in the state. In 1971, the Washington state legislature reduced the possession of 40g of cannabis to a misdemeanor and no longer labeled it an opiate or narcotic. Marijuana was still illegal as it was a schedule 1 drug under the Washington Uniform Controlled Substance Act. This implied that it was considered to have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.

The Washington Court of Appeals made a landmark decision in 1979 when it recognized that a medical defense existed for the possession of marijuana. It, however, stated that this was limited to specific cases, such as in State v. Diana. In the 1990s, due to the difficulty in obtaining cannabis for medical use, buyers clubs and co-operatives began providing cannabis to local patients. Law enforcement's targeting of these co-operatives led to a Tacoma attorney filing a suit to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug in the state. Rescheduling would enable physicians in the state to prescribe marijuana as medication to patients. While a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the suit, the State Supreme Court overturned the decision.

As a direct consequence of the Supreme Court's ruling, physician Robert Killian sponsored two ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana for medical use effectively. Initiative 685, which sought to enable physicians in the state to prescribe Schedule I drugs, failed with 60.4% of the ballot against, in 1997. However, Initiative 692, which legalized medical marijuana in the state, passed with 59% of the ballot in 1998. This allowed patients in the state with debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana as an alternative medical treatment on the recommendation of a physician.

Marijuana was legalized for adult use in 2012 when Initiative 502 passed with 55.7% on the ballot in the state. This enabled adults in Washington, 21 years and older, to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in the state. The marijuana may be purchased from any of the state-licensed cannabis stores. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) regulates all recreational and medical marijuana products that pass through the system.

In 2015, the Washington legislature passed the Cannabis Patient Protection Act (CPPA) and the Marijuana Taxation Reform bill. The CPPA provisioned the regulation of the medical marijuana industry and brought it under the auspices of the WSLCB. The Marijuana Taxation Reform amended the taxation rules in the marijuana industry in the state.

What are the Restrictions on Cannabis in Washington?

Cannabis can be legally purchased from licensed cannabis stores in Washington, but only up to specific quantities. It is prohibited for adults or MMJ patients to possess marijuana in quantities that exceed the stipulated amounts for each category of user. Some other restrictions on the use of cannabis in Washington include;

  • It is illegal to use marijuana products on federal property, and this includes buildings, land, parks, and forest reserves.
  • It is prohibited to use marijuana products in public places, designated drug-free zones, and within 1000 feet of schools and school bus stops. Persons may smoke, vape, or ingest marijuana products in their domiciles or other private residences. Using marijuana products in public is a civil infraction and carries a fine of $100.
  • It is prohibited to transport marijuana products across state lines.
  • Only adults, 21 years and older, with a valid ID issued in the United States, can buy and use recreational marijuana. Persons under 21 can use marijuana in Washington, but only for medical purposes.
  • Driving Under the influence of drugs (DUID) is a felony crime in Washington, and an affirmative defense can not be used by medical marijuana patients.
  • Local councils of cities, towns, and counties can decide to prohibit cannabis stores or restrict them to designated zones.
In this section:
Washington Marijuana Laws