This page provides information on the regulation of medical marijuana (Cannabis) in Washington State, including the latest legislation, court decisions and ordinances. For information on recreational marijuana, see MRSC's Recreational Marijuana: A Guide for Local Governments.
State Supreme Court Decision on Collective Gardens
On May 21, 2015 the Washington Supreme Court issued a decision that potentially complicates the legal issues involving the growing of medical marijuana by patients and designated caregivers in Washington. Read State Supreme Court Says Cities Can Ban Collective Gardens, but the Legislature is Replacing Them with Medical Marijuana Cooperatives.
Medical Marijuana Reform Legislation Enacted
The 2015 legislature has overhauled the medical marijuana statutes by enacting SSSB 5052. The bill was signed by the governor, with partial vetoes, at the end of April.
We recommend a thorough review of the legislation by all those who will be involved in enforcement activities (law enforcement and regulatory enforcement). The legislative bill report has a good summary. The Association of Washington Cities has also prepared a summary of the legislation.
For more information, see also MRSC's blog post Medical Marijuana Reform Legislation Enacted.
Liquor and Cannabis Control Board Licensing
SSSB 5052 brings medical marijuana into the same regulatory scheme that the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board (LCB) has established for recreational marijuana:
- All growers, processors and retailers of medical marijuana will be required to obtain a license from the LCB.
- All product will be tracked “from seed to sale.”
- There will be strict oversight to make sure that improper sales do not occur.
"Collective Gardens" Provisions Repealed
The confusing “collective gardens” provisions have been repealed; substituted is a scaled back LCB registered growing and processing “cooperative,” with a maximum of four qualifying patients or designated caregivers. The total number of plants that can be grown through a collective is set at 60 if there are four individuals in the cooperative.
Patients and designated caregivers need to review the details of the legislation carefully to make sure that they are in compliance.
Qualification Process for Medical Marijuana Patients Revised
The process for becoming a qualifying medical marijuana patient has been significantly revised, and yearly renewals are required.
Qualifying patients can choose to enroll in a state-maintained medical marijuana authorization database and obtain a “recognition card,” which authorizes them to purchase medical marijuana and participate in a medical marijuana cooperative. Enrolling in the database will provide increased protection from arrest if the qualifying patient or designated caregiver is in compliance with all of the laws and regulations regarding medical marijuana.
Siting Requirements for Licensed Marijuana Growers, Processors, and Retailers
The same buffer requirements that apply to the siting of licensed recreational marijuana growers, processors and retailers apply to licensed medical marijuana growers, processors and retailers.
Recreational marijuana retailers who want to also retail medical marijuana will need to obtain an endorsement from the LCB and the retail store will need to have staff trained to provide advice to qualifying patients and designated caregivers.
The legislation contained no provisions related to the authority of a city or county to prohibit the siting of licensed medical marijuana within its jurisdiction.
Effective Dates of New Legislation
SSSB 5052 has differing effective dates for the various sections of the bill.
The primary date relevant for local governments is July 1, 2016. That is the date by which current medical marijuana growers, processors and retailers need to be licensed through the LCB.
In the meantime, the state will be setting up the database for medical marijuana patients, establishing additional rules regarding medical marijuana, and reviewing applications for those medical marijuana businesses that choose to transition to being licensed by the state.
Latest News from MRSC Insight
For a list of all related blog posts, see Posts for Recreational and Medical Marijuana.
Federal Law and Policies
- Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. Ch. 13 - Drug Abuse Prevention and Control, via U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Deputy Attorney General
- VHA Directive 2011-004, Access to Clinical Programs for Veterans Participating in State-Approved Marijuana Programs, Veterans Health Administration, 1/31/2011
The information below is based on the medical marijuana statutes prior to the legislative overhaul done in 2015.
References in court decisions and city ordinances to "collective gardens" and dispensaries are now outdated. When we become aware of ordinances enacted subsequent to the 2015 legislative changes we will provide links.
Consider the information and documents linked below as reference materials with little value for drafting local government ordinances or regulations.
Information Prior to 2015 Medical Marijuana Legislation
- WSAMA: Medical Marijuana in Washington, Fall 2012 WSAMA presentation by Jon Walker, Deputy City Attorney and police legal advisor for Tacoma.
- WA State Department of Revenue: Are Sales of "Medical Marijuana" Subject to Sales Tax?
- WA State Department of Health:Information for Health Care Providers on the Medical Cannabis Law (ESSB 5073), 12/2011
- WA State Department of Health: Information Summary: Patient Access to Medical Marijuana in Washington State, Washington State Department of Health, 7/2008
- Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Mgmt. (Colo.), LLC, 152 Wn. App. 388 (2009), review granted, 168 Wn.2d 1025 (2010) - The Court of Appeals ruled that Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act does not protect medical marijuana users from adverse hiring or disciplinary decisions based on an employer’s drug test policy
- Update: Medical Cannabis, by W. Scott Snyder, Senior Member, Ogden Murphy Wallace, Municipal, Municipal Research News, Summer 2011
- Medical and Recreational Marijuana Uses -- Local Regulation, by Carol Morris, updated 09/15/2013 - This article discusses land use and legal issues raised by the state's medical cannabis and new recreational marijuana laws.
- Letter to Board of Clark County Commissioners, from the United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, re application of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to the Board of Clark County Commissioners and Clark County Employees, 1/17/2012 - This letter appears to be a response to the extensive medical marijuana statutory changes originally passed by the 2011 legislature, many of which were vetoed by Governor Gregoire
Washington Local Government Ordinances
Types of Ordinances and Decisions Adopted
- Model Ordinance prepared by Carol Morris, Morris Law, P.C., Seabeck, WA. Adopting zoning restrictions on the cultivation of medical cannabis (marijuana) for personal use and in collective gardens, describing the land use impacts triggering such restrictions, identifying the permitted zone for collective gardens, establishing separation and distance requirements within the permitted zone, establishing procedures for enforcement of violations including abatement of cannabis nuisances, repealing the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and the interim zoning ordinance on collective gardens.
- Kent - Reply brief filed in March 2013 in litigation challenging the city's prohibition of "collective gardens." For all cities that have similarly prohibited collective gardens, the state supreme court decision will provide guidance.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
- The Next Zoning Battleground: Trends and Challenges in Local Regulation of Medical Marijuana, by Deborah M. Rosenthal and Alfred Fraijo, Jr., Zoning Practice, Issue 7, July 2011 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
- State Medical Marijuana Laws, National Council of State Legislatures, updated 4/08/2014. - See Table
Chronology of Medical Marijuana Regulation in Washington State
March 31, 2014 Update
On March 31, 2014 the court of appeals issued a decision that complicates the legal issues involving medical marijuana in Washington. Read New Medical Marijuana Court Decision Adds to the Confusion! for an explanation.
December 20, 2011 Update
Information about the Governor's petition for marijuana reclassification is available on Governor Gregoire's website. See Gov. Gregoire Files Petition to Reclassify Marijuana. Cities interested in supporting the Governor's petition and signing onto a letter endorsing the petition should contact Candice Bock by January 6, 2012. Read the letter of support from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC).
November 21, 2011 Update
Many Washington cities adopted moratoriums during the summer months, delaying the adoption of zoning or other regulations concerning medical marijuana collective gardens. A review of the various ordinances submitted to MRSC shows that at least three jurisdictions (Castle Rock, Ellensburg and Shoreline) have adopted interim regulations; those ordinances are posted below. In the coming two months many jurisdictions are going to need to adopt their own regulations, or extend their moratoriums.
Last week federal agents raided over a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries in King, Pierce and Thurston counties, making it clear that the federal government will take action against individuals who are operating beyond the scope of allowed activity under the state's current medical marijuana laws. However, we have not seen indications that the federal authorities in Western Washington are intervening if the activity is ostensibly within state law and involves certified medical marijuana patients.
June 16, 2011 Update
As expected, MRSC is receiving inquiries regarding the amendments to the medical Cannabis statutes, particularly the options open to cities and counties in regard to "collective gardens," which are now specifically authorized under state law. First, a caveat: there is going to be confusion regarding regulation of these gardens and medical Cannabis issues in general until the law is amended, by the legislature or by citizen initiative. Here are some of our thoughts on the topic, but we encourage all jurisdictions to review these issues with your own legal advisor. We suspect that there will be significant differences in how various local governments approach these issues.
Cities and counties can place zoning restrictions and impose licensing requirements on collective gardens, but it is not clear whether local governments can totally prohibit them, so long as the collective gardens comply with the restrictions on the numbers of plants and numbers of qualified patients. See Sections 403 and 1102 of E2SSB 5073. Also, Chapter 69.51A RCW still allows a "qualified patient" or a "designated provider" to possess a quantity of Cannabis not exceeding a 60-day supply for a patient, which has been interpreted in the regulations as including up to 15 Cannabis plants, so individual gardens are clearly allowed. [If you have been following this webpage recently you will notice that we have changed our interpretation twice on the issue of whether collective gardens can be prohibited. That is a measure of how we are struggling with interpretation of the provisions that go into effect on July 22.
If a city or county refuses to issue a business license or land use permit application for a collective garden, be aware that there are medical marijuana supporters who may choose to file a lawsuit challenging that action. An attorney general opinion on the topic could be helpful. The judicial system may not be of much help; legislative changes to the current statutes are likely before a dispute makes its way through the courts, particularly if there is an appeal. Each city, town and county should discuss how they will respond when a person walks through the door and asks if they can have a collective garden on their property, or asks if they need a permit to have a collective garden.
A storefront dispensary that sold Cannabis to anyone walking in the door with a "qualified patient" card would appear to be in violation of both state and federal laws at this time. However, we don't know how actively federal DEA agents will pursue dispensaries in Washington, and we don't know the intent of city and county law enforcement agencies or prosecutors.
Legislation Update May 25, 2011
Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5073 passed the legislature on April 22, and was partially approved by Governor Gregoire on April 29. The governor vetoed a significant portion of the legislation and expressed her reservations about certain provisions that involved state employees in activity that could be interpreted as in violation of federal laws. The one remaining piece of legislation dealing with medical Cannabis (SB 5955) has been tabled. Here is a recap of the major provisions of the 2011 legislation (E2SSB 5073) remaining after the governor's veto of certain sections . The following changes will be incorporated into chapter 69.51A RCW, the current RCW chapter dealing with medical marijuana.
- Up to ten qualifying patients may join together and have a collective garden with a maximum of 45 plants. [Section 402 of the legislation]
- A minimum of 15 days must elapse when a qualified provider switches from being the provider for one qualifying patient to being the provider for a different qualifying patient. This appears to eliminate the argument used by most dispensaries to justify providing Cannabis to multiple patients, one after another. [Section 404]
- Nothing in the medical Cannabis statutes require an employer with a drug-free workplace policy to accommodate medical use of Cannabis. [Section 501]
- All the provisions in the legislation that provided for licensed producers, processors, and dispensers were vetoed by the governor. [Sections 601 through 611, sections 701 through 705, and sections 801 through 807]
- All provisions establishing a state registry for patients, providers, dispensers, and collective gardens were vetoed. [Sections 901-902]
- There is a broad indemnity provision that protects local government officials for actions taken to enforce the laws regarding medical Cannabis if they are made in good faith. [Section 1101(2)]
- Section 1102 of the legislation provides that cities, towns and counties may adopt and enforce zoning requirements, business licensing requirements, health and safety requirements, and business taxes. All such regulations could apply to collective gardens, and could prohibit collective gardens from being sited next to or within a certain designated distance of other collective gardens, thus prohibiting large scale grow operations.