Marijuana in Washington

Recreational Use

Medical Marijuana

  • 24 ounces.
  • 15 plants.
  • Patient registry.
  • Qualifying medical condition.
  • No legal dispensaries.

Criminal Penalties


< 1oz: No penalty

< 40g: Misdemeanor – 90 days

> 40g: Felony – 5 years


Felony – 5 to 10 years


Felony – 5 years

Washington joined Colorado in 2012 as the first states to legalize possession of marijuana for recreational use.

Initiative 692 legalized marijuana for medical use in 1998, when it passed with 59 percent of the vote. The law permits registered patients with a qualifying medical condition to possess up to 24 ounces of usable marijuana and 15 plants.

Approved medical conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma, persistent pain and multiple sclerosis. The Washington Board of Health is charged with approving other uses. However, the Board of Health has narrowly defined its role as it pertains to medical marijuana. It does not administer a registry and the state does not license or sanction dispensaries.

Washington Medical Marijuana – Federal Enforcement

In 2011, Gov. Christine Gregoire, signed sections of SB 5073. However, sections establishing a registry and registering dispensaries were vetoed. In issuing the veto, the governor said patients were able to grow cannabis or participate in collective gardens without fear of state criminal prosecution. In essence, the governor said patients and those engaged in the marijuana trade could take their chances when it came to be prosecuted under federal law for violating the Controlled Substances Act. But to put the state departments of Health and Agriculture in a position of licensing such businesses could subject state employees to federal prosecution.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington in State v. Fry ruled I-692 did not legalize marijuana but rather provided an authorized user to make an affirmative defense argument if the patient can show compliance with the legal requirements for medical marijuana possession.

In Feb. 2013, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske told a Canadian news magazine that federal authorities would prosecute dispensaries and growers of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado where it has been legalized. Washington’s law took effect in January 2013, and eliminates penalties for private possession and consumption of up to one ounce of marijuana. Public consumption is still illegal and is punishable by a $100 fine.

It’s unlikely the state will establish legal marijuana grow operations and dispensaries for the production and distribution of recreational marijuana when such facilities do not yet exist for the distribution of medical cannabis. Thus Washington joins a growing number of states in a legal limbo without legal means of purchasing a legal product.

Advocates say emphasis on homegrown cannabis is not the solution. Marijuana can be difficult to grow to medicinal quality and, in fact, the recreational law has not mechanism for permitting home growth.

Washington Marijuana News Archive:

Washington, Colorado Legal Marijuana Having Growing Problems, Huffington Post, Feb 25, 2012.

U.S. Drug Czar: Federal Prosecutors Will Go After Washington And Colorado Marijuana Distributors, ThinkProgress, Feb. 12, 2013.

Voters ease marijuana laws in 2 states, but legal questions remain, The New York Times, Nov. 7, 2012.

Contact Us
Contact Us