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Recreational Marijuana: A Guide for Local Governments

The transition to a regulated recreational marijuana market in the State of Washington took a big step in 2014 as state licensed producers, processors and retailers began operation in many cities and counties around the state. Many jurisdictions enacted moratoriums while they discussed the issues, and many jurisdictions have taken steps to opt out of the state-licensed system. Litigation will continue while these issues are sorted out. This major shift in how marijuana is legally and socially accepted has not been easy for many jurisdictions.

To help, MRSC has put together a comprehensive guide for local governments on how to implement recreational marijuana on the municipal level. In the following webpages, you will find basic information about implementation, regulatory documents, sample ordinances, and more. Using this information we hope that your municipality can develop the right set of policies for your community.

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MRSC Insight

Stay up-to-date on recreational marijuana and other municipal governance issues through MRSC's blog, MRSC Insight.

Key Facts

Land Use and Zoning

I-502 provides for a 1,000 foot buffer separation between licensed marijuana businesses and designated, schools, parks, recreation centers, etc. All licensed marijuana businesses will need to comply with local government land use and zoning regulations. There is a regulatory process established for local government agencies to object to the proposed issuance of a marijuana business license to a specific individual or for a specific location within their jurisdiction.

For more information, see our page on Marijuana Land Use Issues.

Regulatory Compliance

The state liquor control board is starting to issue licenses for marijuana producers, processors and retailers. Building inspectors and local government officials need to be aware of relevant code issues raised by this new industry -- and local governments must understand which code requirements are enforced by local governments and which are enforced by state agencies.

For more information, see our page on Marijuana Regulatory Compliance Issues.

Law Enforcement

I-502 legalized the possession of specified amounts of marijuana and legalized private recreational use of marijuana. Police officers may arrest individuals for driving under the influence of marijuana and they may issue citations for consuming marijuana in public. Under state law licensed marijuana businesses can grow, process and sell marijuana. So far it appears that federal authorities will not intervene to enforce the federal controlled substances act on these state-licensed businesses if they are fully compliant with the rigorous state statutes and regulations.

For more information, see our page Enforcing Recreational Marijuana.

Personnel and Employment

I-502 does not change employers' rights under Washington law, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The initiative is silent on the topic of drug testing. Where in force, federal regulations may still prohibit use and mandate testing for marijuana.

For more information, see our page on Marijuana in the Workplace.

Taxes and Revenue

Revenues from the excise tax on marijuana will be distributed primarily to the Liquor Control Board for administrative expenses, to the state's Basic Health Plan, to the state general fund, and to health-related programs. B&O and local retail sales taxes apply.

For more information, see our page on Taxing Recreational Marijuana.

Federal Government

The federal government, through the Department of Justice, has indicated a willingness to allow this new approach toward marijuana being pioneered by the States of Washington and Colorado. However, the federal government has indicated a number of concerns, which seem to be addressed by the provisions in initiative 502 and the proposed rules adopted by the Liquor Control Board.

For more information, see our page on Federal Response to State Regulated Marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

I-502 makes no mention of medical marijuana. Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act (Ch. 69.51A RCW) remains unchanged. Medical marijuana dispensaries will not automatically become retail marijuana stores, but it is possible that a medical marijuana collective garden/dispensary could change to being a recreational marijuana retail store if the owner obtained a state license for the sale of recreational marijuana.

For more information on I-502 and medical marijuana, see our page on Medical v. Recreational Marijuana.

Recommended Reads

Liquor Control Board Documents

Staff Reports

  • Bellevue - Staff memorandum, 07/13/2013
  • Everett - Official comments to the Liquor Control Board, 07/31/2013
  • Kirkland - Planning department memo, 07/13/2013
  • Mukilteo - Staff report, 04/08/2013
  • Spokane Valley - Briefing to city Council, 07/16/2013

Association of Washington Cities Resources

  • Assessment of Impacts to Cities of Recreational Marijuana Legalization, Final Report, by Berk & Assoc., 01/09/2015
  • Comments to the Liquor Control Board, 06/04/2013
  • FAQ for cities
  • AWC Webinars - A series of webinars and short videos produced by the Association of Washington Cities on various marijuana issues. The webinars provide more detailed information on the issues that have arisen over the past year as the state moves forward with a regulated and taxed public marijuana industry.
  • AWC Webinar on Licensing Issues - Includes detailed presentations by Alan Rathbun of the state Liquor Control Board, and Jon Walker, Deputy City Attorney of Tacoma. The primary topic is the criteria used by the LCB to grant licenses and the grounds for cities or counties to object to the granting of marijuana licenses, 11/12/2013

New Regulations for Personal Use

Recreational Marijuana Ordinances across Washington

We are attempting to provide accurate and complete data from all jurisdictions in Washington: please provide MRSC with your relevant ordinances or other documents by sending them to Josh Mahar, MRSC Outreach Coordinator. Updates to our data, questions, and comments all welcome.

For a excel data table of this information, please email Josh Mahar.

Map Legend

  • Allowed Under Existing Zoning - Licensed recreational marijuana businesses are not specifically allowed, but can locate in appropriate zones already established (ie. retail marijuana businesses can locate in zones allowing retails sales, etc.)
  • Permanent Zoning - Licensed marijuana businesses are specifically listed as allowed uses in designated zones.
  • Interim Zoning - Provisional zoning regulations are adopted for licensed marijuana businesses, subject to review and amendment within a designated time period, as allowed by RCW 35A.63.220.
  • No Action - No regulations have been adopted regarding licensed marijuana businesses.
  • Moratorium - Licensed marijuana businesses are prohibited for a designated time while the legislative body gives the matter further consideration, as allowed by RCW 35A.63.220.
  • Prohibited - Licensed marijuana businesses are not allowed - either through an outright ban or through other local enactments, such as licensing regulations prohibiting businesses that do not comply with federal laws.

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Last Modified: February 06, 2015