Washington state tends to stay ahead of the curve — especially when it comes to cannabis. It was one of the first US states to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
That was in 1998. Now, more than 25 years later, Washington and other states have gone on to also legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
Although it’s legal to use marijuana in Washington, there are still laws that apply. Those laws also tend to be different depending on whether you’re using recreational marijuana or medical marijuana, or if you live in a city that has banned retail sales.
If you live in Washington state and want to know how you can access safe and legal medical marijuana, keep reading. Our guide covers everything from how to find a doctor who can recommend cannabis, to understanding state and local cannabis laws.
Let’s get started.
Washington state has two sets of cannabis laws: laws that concern the personal use of marijuana, and laws that concern the medical use of marijuana.
Since navigating them can be tricky, here’s a rundown of the key differences between Washington’s medical marijuana and recreational marijuana laws.
Washington state’s version of the medical marijuana card is known as the “Recognition Card.”
To qualify, individuals must be Washington state residents. They must also receive a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana authorization.
Per the Washington State Department of Health website, there is no age restriction for who can legally use medical marijuana. That means you can become a member of Washington’s medical marijuana program at any age.
After obtaining a card, cardholders can legally purchase tax-free marijuana products from a licensed dispensary. Those with a Washington state medical marijuana card enjoy other benefits as well. For example, they are able to legally possess:
They can also:
Those who want to grow more cannabis than the specified limit require a note from their doctor. Healthcare professionals can authorize a patient’s home cultivation of up to 15 cannabis plants, as well as harvesting up to 16 ounces of usable cannabis from those plants at any one time.
Cardholders can also choose between growing cannabis at home or joining a medical marijuana cooperative garden.
From tax-free purchases to higher possession amounts, the perks enjoyed by cardholders make the decision of whether or not to enroll a no-brainer.
Enrollment in Washington’s medical cannabis authorization database is optional.
Washington’s authorization database is a statewide list of current, authorized medical marijuana cardholders. If your doctor authorizes you to use medical marijuana, you don’t have to join the medical marijuana database. However, your access to medical marijuana will be more limited.
Qualified patients who apply for a card and enroll in the state’s database have more options than qualified patients who do not enroll.
If you get a medical marijuana recommendation from your doctor but don’t apply for a card, you are:
Able to harvest and possess no more than six ounces of cannabis from your cannabis plants at any one time
In the state of Washington, adults who are 21 years of age or older can purchase marijuana for recreational (non-medical) use.
Recreational cannabis users can only purchase products from a licensed dispensary. Here are the legal limits on what recreational users can buy:
Growing cannabis plants for non-medical use is strictly prohibited.
If you are seeing a licensed healthcare practitioner and have been diagnosed with a debilitating health condition, it’s likely that you will qualify for medical marijuana.
Note that the condition must be severe enough to hinder your day-to-day activities, and interfere with your overall quality of life.
The Washington State Department of Health website lists the following qualifying conditions:
Patients who have a terminal or severely debilitating condition are given compassionate consideration and care, as well.
It is ultimately at the healthcare provider’s discretion whether they recommend medical marijuana for the treatment of a patient’s health condition.
You’ll need to do a few things before you can join Washington state’s cannabis program, but the process is simple.
The first step is to make an appointment with a state-licensed healthcare provider.
Following a thorough evaluation, the doctor will decide whether medical cannabis is right for your treatment plan.
Next, the physician will issue an authorization form to you. Bring the authorization form to a medically-endorsed retail store in Washington. This is where you will be issued a medical marijuana card.
The standard fee for the medical cannabis card is $1. However, the law does not prevent stores from charging more.
The average cost of a medical marijuana card in Washington ranges from $1 to $10. People who choose to apply for and purchase a card are automatically enrolled in the state registry.
For adults who are 18 or older, the card is valid for a year. Medical marijuana cards for minors (under the age of 18) are valid for only six months.
Medical cannabis patients can renew their card either online, in person, or via postal mail. If someone is in too much pain to see their doctor for the renewal, they can discuss a possible “compassionate care renewal” with their physician. This allows the doctor to authorize the renewal over a telemedicine appointment.
Only original authorization forms are accepted. Photocopies of the form, or forms that appear to have been tampered, will be rejected.
Washington residents with a medical marijuana (MMJ) card are able to:
If you don’t have a primary care doctor and need to find a physician who can evaluate whether you qualify for medical marijuana, try checking the Marijuana Doctors database.
Using Marijuana Doctors to search for local physicians is convenient, safe, and easy to use. Filter the search by city to get a list of nearby medical professionals, dispensaries, and more.
Washington state does not have reciprocity laws.
That means that if you reside in another state and want to buy medical marijuana in Washington, the state will not honor your out-of-state card.
However, adult users of medical cannabis who are over the age of 21 can still visit a Washington dispensary to buy small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Washington state dispensaries sell all types of standard marijuana products, including:
These products may contain one or more of several cannabinoids, including the most popular cannabinoids THC and CBD.
In the state of Washington, a caregiver or designated provider is someone over 21 who is legally authorized to assist patients with the medical marijuana process. That includes applying for a card, purchasing products, and cultivating plants.
Child patients (minors) are required to have a caregiver in order to access medical marijuana. Usually, this is the child’s parent or legal guardian.
If a caregiver is involved, the doctor will issue two authorizations — one for the patient and one for the caregiver. The caregiver must sign both authorizations on behalf of the patient. The caregiver holds on to one authorization while the patient receives the other.
Note that Washington state does not appoint caregivers for the purpose of obtaining medical marijuana. Patients are responsible to source their own caregiver.
Even though medical and recreational cannabis are both legal in Washington state, the state still regulates how much cannabis a person can buy, possess, and grow, in addition to where it can be used.
Medical marijuana patients may possess no more than:
If law enforcement stops or contacts the patient, they must provide their valid medical marijuana card.
If a medical marijuana cardholder has more than the legal limit but less than 40 grams, they can be charged with a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days jail time.
It is a felony in Washington state to possess more than 40 grams of cannabis. If convicted, the person may be punished by a fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum of 5 years jail time.
Recreational marijuana users who are 21 and older may possess no more than:
If a user of recreational marijuana has more than the legal limit but less than 40 grams, they can be charged with a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days jail time.
In the state of Washington, only a state-licensed distributor can sell and distribute cannabinoid products of any type.
It is a felony to sell or distribute cannabis without a license. If convicted, the felony carries a $10,000 fine and a maximum jail sentence of 5 years. The maximum jail sentence is increased to 10 years if the product was sold to a minor.
Adults who are 21 and older are able to purchase and give marijuana as a gift to other adults, as long as it’s within the legal quantity.
You can transport cannabis in Washington state, as long as it’s within the legal possession limit and you do not carry it across state lines.
During transport, the marijuana must be inside either a sealed container or the trunk of the vehicle.
It is prohibited to mail cannabis across state lines. If the authorities discover a package containing marijuana, both the sender and recipient may be held liable.
Like most substances, it is illegal to operate a motorized vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. Both the driver and any passengers are prohibited from using cannabis inside a vehicle, even if the vehicle is parked.
The penalties for breaking this law can vary, and depend on whether the individual has a past history of one or more DUI offenses.
Washington state prohibits the public use or consumption of marijuana.
People who smoke cannabis must refrain from smoking in any area where cigarette smoking or vaping is also prohibited.
According to RCW 69.51A.120, qualifying patients and designated caregivers are allowed to cultivate medical cannabis in their home, as long as it’s within the legal limit.
The law states that a parent’s parental rights and time with their children cannot be restricted because of the parent’s use of cannabis. The only exception is if the parent’s cannabis use has interfered with their ability to safely perform the role of a parent.
Effective January 1, 2024, Washington state law prevents employers from drug testing future employees for marijuana use.
The law does not prevent Washington employers from screening prospective employees for other drugs. However, if the drug test comes back positive for cannabis use, the doctor must omit those results.
Note that this law only applies to employment-related drug testing. It does not prevent law enforcement from testing a person for cannabis after a car accident, or if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is driving while impaired.
The law has a few other exceptions you should know. It does not apply to jobs in the following fields or industries:
The laws that govern medical marijuana, and marijuana in general, are undergoing rapid changes across the US.
That’s why it’s important to always check your local city or county authority’s website for any updates or changes to marijuana legalization. You can also check with Marijuana Doctors to find the most up-to-date information concerning your state’s medical marijuana laws, dispensaries, and doctors who can recommend cannabis. If you’re in Washington state, click here to read the latest updates about local marijuana rules and regulations.