State Snippet - Washington

July 8, 2014 was the first day of recreation sales in Washington. 

Happy Anniversary to the first state to legalize recreational marijuana!

Washington, similar to Alaska, took a long and winding road to cannabis decriminalization & legalization.  From criminalization in 1923 to the 1979 recognition of the medical necessity defense by the WA Court of Appeals in State v. Diana, the state made stop and go progress but lawmakers, advocates and residents persevered until MMJ was decriminalized in 1998 and crossed the legalization finish line on December 6, 2012.

Along the way the status of the plant was similar to most progressive states. It was, by default, illegal but enforcement was generally lax and by 1971 possession of 40g or less was a misdemeanor and marijuana was no longer considered an “opiate” or “narcotic”. This was the same year WA passed it’s own CSA (Controlled Substances Act) with marijuana being a drug with “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use”. Confusing? Yes. Atypical? No.

By the 1990’s patient cooperatives and buyers clubs were operating (unlicensed) throughout the state. Green Cross Patient Co-Op, located on Bainbridge Island, was the first buyers club to be raided by law enforcement in 1995.  The case was ultimately dismissed due to an issue with the warrant; little consolation to the 70 patients that were receiving cannabis at little to no cost for conditions such as AIDS, cancer, MS, etc. The Co-Op relocated to Seattle and resumed operations.

Decriminalization of MMJ took two attempts. Initiative 692 legalized MMJ in 1998 with doctors being able to recommend MMJ to patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses.  Patients can possess up to a 60 day supply = 24 oz. usable marijuana and no more than 15 plants. This was after a similar initiative failed in 1997, one that included paroling drug prisoners. Again, the law did not allow for dispensaries, but many opened and they were often ignored by law enforcement. By 2011 there were approximately 75 dispensaries in Seattle and 55 in Spokane.

2011 was a pivotal year. The state legislature passed an overhaul of the MMJ laws to create a system of state licensed cultivators, processors and retailers but the Governor vetoed most of new legislation citing federal illegality. The US Attorney for Eastern WA ordered all dispensaries in Spokane to be shut down, many complied, some operators were jailed. Activists filed Initiative 502 to legalize recreational use for adults 21+. The initiative stated that marijuana would be regulated & taxed by the WA State Liquor Control Board and that there would be THC limits for driving. I-520 was voted into law on November 6, 2012 and on December 6, 2012 Washington became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. The limits are as follows -> 1 oz. flower, 16 oz. edibles, 72 oz. liquid and 7 g concentrates (https://lcb.wa.gov).

Other WA Cannafacts:

  • Unlicensed, home cultivation for personal use is not allowed

  • Retail Sales are taxed at 37%, which account for the majority of the state’s marijuana tax revenues.  The allocation of these funds are dictated by I-502 and most go to Public Health Programs.

  • Retailers cannot obtain cultivation or processor licenses

  • Many cultivators are using 50% or less of their allocated growing space. Why? Market price. No out-of-state investment limits access to capital. Cost of facility expansion.

  • All non-outdoor ads, including texts, must include warnings about intoxicating effects, impairment while driving/operating machinery, health risks and keeping out of reach of children.

  • The Washington State Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor & Cannabis Board (LCB)

Sources: Wikipedia, The Stranger, MJ Biz Daily