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Recreational Marijuana: A Guide for Local Governments

The transition to a regulated recreational marijuana market in Washington State 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 at 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.

Latest News

To receive up-to-date news and information on marijuana regulation in Washington, follow the MRSC Insight Blog or sign up for our In Focus: Local Government email newsletter. You can view all marijuana related blog posts in Posts for Recreational and Medical Marijuana. Below is a list of the latest three:

Key Issues

Land Use and Zoning

RCW 69.50.331(8) sets minimum buffer distance requirements for separation of certain uses from licensed marijuana producers, processors or retailers. That statute was amended in 2015 to allow cities, towns or counties to lessen some of those buffer distances. All licensed marijuana producers, processors, and retailers must comply with existing local land use and zoning regulations. Cities, towns and counties can file objections to the granting of a license at a particular location, but it is up to the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to make the license decision. See RCW 69.50.331(9).

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

Regulatory Compliance

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board is issuing 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

The taxation of marijuana was overhauled by the 2015 legislature by passage of 2E2SHB 2136 (hereafter referred to as HB 2136). The original marijuana initiative, I-502, did not provide for any portion of the excise tax on licensed marijuana to be shared with local governments. Starting in June of 2015 the taxation of marijuana changed from an excise tax of 25% at three different phases (production, processing and retail sale) to a single excise tax of 37% at the time of retail sale – and, significantly, the excise tax will be shared with cities and counties.

For more information, see our page on Taxing Marijuana.

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.

Examples of Regulations for Personal Use

Recommended Resources

Liquor and Cannabis Board

Association of Washington Cities

  • AWC Webinar on Licensing Issues, presentations by Alan Rathbun of the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, and Jon Walker, Deputy City Attorney of Tacoma, 11/2013 - 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

Last Modified: July 29, 2015