Washington legalizes personal use marijuana

mppMPP reports on the legalization of marijuana in Washington State.

On November 6, 2012, the voters of Washington approved I-502. Passage of this law repeals the state prohibition of marijuana and replaces it with a system of taxation and regulation. Although marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, 99% of all marijuana arrests are made by state or local authorities, so change in state law will protect the vast majority of Washington adults who choose to use marijuana.

In a nutshell, what does this law do? The law legalizes the possession of marijuana for adults age 21 and older under state law. The only marijuana that will be legal to sell in the state will be grown by specially licensed Washington farmers and sold in standalone, marijuana-only stores operated by private Washington businesses licensed and regulated by the state. I-502 also decriminalizes industrial hemp under Washington law.When does the new law take effect? The law takes effect on December 6, 2012.

How much marijuana does the new law allow adults to possess? The new law allows adults age 21 and older to possess one ounce of usable marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product sold in solid form, or 72-ounces of marijuana-infused product sold in liquid form.

Does it allow adults to grow marijuana? No. The new law in Washington does not allow home growing of marijuana unless one is a medical marijuana patient.

Does it allow adults to smoke marijuana in public? No. The law prohibits the public use and display of marijuana.

When will retail stores begin selling marijuana? By December 1, 2013, the Washington State Liquor Control Board must adopt rules necessary to implement the marijuana cultivation, processing, producing, and retail provisions of I-502. Once these rules are enacted, there will be a clearer idea of when marijuana retailers will begin operating.

What will the tax rate on marijuana be? There will be a 25% sales tax, with 40% of the new revenues going to the state general fund and local budgets, and the remainder dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care.  

Does this new law affect Washington’s medical marijuana program? No. I-502 will not make any changes to the medical marijuana law. As mentioned above, medical marijuana patients will still be able to grow their own medicine. In addition, patients over 21 (along with all other adults) will receive greater legal protections for possessing up to an ounce and will be able to buy marijuana from regulated retailers.

Does the new law make any changes to driving under the influence of marijuana laws? Yes. The law will establish a new per se standard for driving under the influence of marijuana. An adult who is 21 or older with five nanograms of THC per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood will be guilty of driving under the influence of drugs. Police officers still need proof of impairment to make an arrest and take a driver to a medical professional for a blood draw. For those under 21, it will be a crime to drive with any amount of active THC in one’s system.

It is not entirely clear how long THC stays in one’s system, and it seems to vary depending on the individual and how frequently he or she uses marijuana. At least among infrequent users of marijuana, levels typically drop to between one to three ng/mL of blood within a few hours of marijuana use. In heavy users, a detectable amount of THC (in one case, three ng/mL) can remain in the system for seven days or more.


Much of the information above was sourced from New Approach Washington, the official campaign created to support passage of I-502. The above represents a summary and should not be construed as legal advice.


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