Washington Marijuana Laws: What’s Legal, What’s Not?

Mary Mart

Are you a bit unsure as to what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to cannabis? If so, you can relax: You’re in good company. In the space of just a few years, cannabis has seemingly gone from being Public Enemy #1 to full legalization. It’s no wonder so many cannabis-curious citizens find themselves confused and hesitant to “come out” as consumers.

To be fair, for many years now, many physicians and policymakers have accepted—at least tacitly—that cannabis is not quite the scourge we were brought up believing it was.

Though decades of legal prohibition have largely erased our long collective memory of its use as medicine, grudging acceptance led to the first decriminalization at the state level, California’s pioneering Proposition 215 of 1996. Washington State followed soon afterward, in 1998, and pushed even further ahead of the envelope by legalizing cannabis for recreational use in 2012 (the law officially took effect in July 2014).

That said, public policy is still evolving, and questions remain. Because we believe a well-informed public is an empowered public, we want to help set the record straight on consumers’ top-level concerns about Washington marijuana laws. Here are a few of the most-asked questions we get from the cannabis curious:

Can I consume cannabis at the dispensary where I purchased it?

No. In this sense, think of a dispensary as being akin to a liquor store. You’re not allowed to consume alcohol in those, either.

The initiative says I cannot consume marijuana in public. What is the definition of “in public?”
The law states that it is unlawful to consume or even open a package of marijuana or a marijuana-infused product in view of the general public.

Are non-Washington residents able to purchase marijuana?

Yes, but the marijuana products are to be consumed in Washington State. Please don’t include cannabis in the “Memories of Washington” care package you’re collecting for relatives in a non-cannabis state. And while we’re on the topic, mailing cannabis anywhere is still illegal under federal law.

What is the DUI provision?

The initiative sets a per se DUI limit of “delta-9” THC levels at greater than or equal to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood (5 ng/mL). What does that mean in actual practice? That’s a frustratingly difficult question to answer, on many levels. For one, THC—the psychoactive compound in cannabis—is detectable in differing amounts based on the method of administration as well as individuals’ metabolisms and habits. Many researchers and lawmakers admit that Washington State’s legal limit is arbitrary, but that said: It’s the law.

Our best advice? Simply refrain from operating a motor vehicle when intoxicated to any degree by any substance. Take a walk by the shore of Puget Sound, or in one of Washington’s many beautiful forests and state parks!

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