Everything You Need To Know About Washington's New Marijuana Laws
Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, but is still implementing its state-run system, which expects pot shops to open this summer. Here is how it will work.
Updated — March 6, 7 p.m. ET:
Who can smoke marijuana?
The new law allows everyone over 21 to legally smoke recreational marijuana, but they cannot obtain the weed until pot shops open in June. Non-Washington residents will also be allowed to purchase marijuana, but they cannot take their goods across state borders.
For those under 21, marijuana is still illegal, and they will be subject to criminal prosecution if caught using or possessing cannabis.
Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998, and medical marijuana patients, who are legally allowed to posses 24 ounces of marijuana instead of the 1 ounce allowed consumers, will not be impacted by the new law.
Where do people buy marijuana?
Starting this summer, licensed pot shops will be able to sell weed. The shops are regulated by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
WSLCB has not issued licenses to any marijuana retailers, but it has announced it will license 334 retail locations. Pot shop locations were determined by population sizes, and Seattle will have the most of any city with 21 pot shops.
Retailers who are interested in selling pot must pay an application fee of $250 and a $1,000 renewal fee for the license.
Medical marijuana shops will have to go through the same process as new stores to obtain a license. This in conjunction with new medical laws the legislature is attempting to pass has made many nervous that the medical dispensary system will effectively shut down.
Where will the marijuana purchased at pot shops come from?
Pot shops will sell weed from licensed marijuana processors, who will get their weed from licensed producers or will be a licensed producer themselves. Similar to retailer licenses, there is an application fee of $250 and a $1,000 renewal fee for each of the licenses wanted: marijuana producer or marijuana processor.
In the fall of 2013, the WSLCB allowed anyone to apply and said all qualified applicants will receive licenses. More than 7,000 applications were submitted to legally grow weed in the state.
The first license for legally growing recreational marijuana was granted to a Sean Green in Spokane on March 4.
Will individuals be allowed to grow marijuana?
No, Washington residents will not be allowed to grow their own weed. Medical marijuana patients, who are not impacted by the new law, will still be allowed to grow up to 15 plants.
How much marijuana can people buy?
In Washington those over 21 are legally authorized to possess 1 ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, and/or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form. Individuals with more cannabis than this will still be subject to criminal prosecution.
How much will weed cost?
The state estimates a pre-tax price of $12 per gram on average, with an extra 25% sales tax that will amount to $15 per gram.
How will I know what is in my marijuana?
The WSLCB is in the process of setting standards for ingredients and quality of marijuana buds and marijuana-infused products. In Colorado, pot shops must have a label on weed that lists its potency and any non-organic pesticides or fungicides used in its cultivation, so Washington will likely create a similar system.
Where can people legally smoke?
In a private residence with permission of the owner. It is illegal to smoke in view of the general public, and it is also illegal to smoke in a pot shop — there will be no pot cafes, like those Amsterdam is famous for.
Will Washington have enough pot to meet demand?
Not everyone thinks there will be enough stores initially to meet demand and extinguish the black market. Pot shops will likely only compete for about a quarter of the black or so-called gray market of medical marijuana, but eventually the system will be expanded to meet demand, WSLCB members have said.
There's also concern that the first stores will not be able to deal with the crowds and security, but Colorado was able to handle its opening day without any significant problems, despite two-hour long lines to purchase legal weed.
Where can cannabis be advertised?
Pot shops are allowed to display a sign up to 1,600 square-inches bearing their business name, but they will not be allowed to put paraphernalia in window displays.
Advertisements will not be allowed on public transit or on any publicly owned property. They will also be prohibited from being within 1,000 feet of school grounds, playgrounds, or other areas that allow minors to enter.
How will the state regulate the marijuana industry?
Pot shops will be licensed and regulated by the WSLCB but will be private-sector businesses. WSCLB is in the process of writing procedures for how to operate, maintain records, and package their products. Washington has announced it plans to use BioTrackTHC software to track the weed from seed to seller.
What about the children?
Pot shops cannot set up within 1,000 feet of any school, playground, recreation center or facility, public park, public transit center, library, or game arcades. Local authorities will also be notified and have an opportunity to object before a pot business is located in the area.
Also, WSLCB bans minors from entering pot shops and is in the process of establishing rules on security and preventing access to marijuana. The WSLCB educates alcohol retailers and will likely set up a similar program for marijuana retailers.
Will employers still be allowed to drug test?
Yes, the marijuana legislation does not address what private businesses do in terms of drug testing. Also marijuana is illegal under federal law, so institutions that receive federal funds will still be subject to mandated testing. As it played out in Colorado, pot smokers could still be fired for failing drug tests.
Will people be allowed to drive while stoned?
The new law in Washington sets a DUI limit of "delta-9" THC levels at greater than or equal to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. The question still remains how state and local law enforcement agencies will enforce this limit.
Will people who are in jail for marijuana-related crimes be released?
No, the new marijuana laws will have zero impact on those currently serving sentences. But after the law was passed, prosecutors in several counties announced that they would close some current investigations into marijuana-related crimes.
How will the state make money from this?
The initiative applies a 25% excise tax three times when it exchanges hand between producer, processor, retailer, and buyer. In addition, a standard Business and Occupation tax on the production and local retail sales will apply.
The state also earns revenues from the license application and renewal fees and is allowed to charge fees for anything done to enforce the legislation, such as testing, sampling, or labeling the cannabis.
It is still to be seen how much the state will make from recreational marijuana, but the state estimates up to $2 billion in the first five years. Colorado's pot shops made more than $1 million on the first day of legalization and continue to project very high estimates for future revenue.
What will the state do with this money?
In Washington, most of the tax revenue is set to pay for health care, education, research, and drug abuse prevention. Although it is too early to project how much revenue will be earned, additional money will likely come in and be allocated in a future budget proposal.