With the passage of Initiative 502 Washington State voters approved the creation of a tightly controlled and regulated recreational marijuana market. It is now legal in the State of Washington for adults age 21 and older to possess one ounce of useable marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana in solid form (like baked goods) or 72 ounces of marijuana in liquid form for recreational purposes.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington State since 1998 when voters approved Initiative 692, the Washington State Medical Use of Cannabis Act.
An important distinction of the new retail market is that the only recreational marijuana legal to sell or purchase in the State must be legally grown in Washington by licensed producers, processed by licensed processors and sold by specially licensed marijuana-only retail stores.
Even after I-502 is fully implemented, the following will continue to be illegal:
- Possession of amounts 50% above the defined limit are subject to criminal prosecution.
- Possession by a person under the age of 21 years, unless they have a current medical marijuana license, is illegal.
- You can have the legal limit of marijuana on your person, but can not display or use it in public , such as at parks, on sidewalks or in bars or restaurants. If you are caught using marijuana in public, it will be treated as a civil infraction.
- Transportation of marijuana products across the state line or across international borders is illegal.
- Driving under the influence of marijuana. Drivers are considered impaired over the limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. This limit refers to active THC in the blood, not the inactive metabolites measured in a workplace urine test, which can remain in the blood for days or weeks after cannabis use. In order to obtain the blood test, police must have made an arrest for DUI based on observations of the driver’s behavior.
- Production, processing or sale of marijuana without a valid state license is illegal.
- Use of marijuana within 1000 feet of a school, playground, child care center, or publicly owned recreational center is illegal.
- Use or possession of marijuana remains a criminal act on federal lands, including National Parks and National Forests, such as the Mt. Baker Ski area, which is on National Forest land.
How does this affect travelers to Bellingham and Whatcom County?
Since Initiative 502 is a Washington state law, it is not possible to produce or carry marijuana into or out of the state. Visitors can travel to Whatcom County to purchase and use marijuana. Restrictions are the same for residents and non-residents.
Smoking still banned in public places
Washington was the tenth state in 2005 to prohibit smoking in all restaurants and bars. Today, the definition of “public place” includes bars, restaurants, bowling centers, skating rinks, and non-tribal casinos. The definition also includes private residences used to provide childcare, foster care, adult care, or similar social services, and at least 75 percent of the sleeping quarters within a hotel. See statement from Washington Lodging Association. The Smoking in Public Places law also prohibits smoking within 25 feet of entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes that serve enclosed areas where smoking is prohibited. See Washington State Smoking in Public Places Law.
In the case of facilities that receive federal funds, the federal law takes precedence. For example, Western Washington University has designated tobacco smoking areas. However, as a recipient of federal funding, Western must continue to abide by federal laws and regulations. Western Washington University campus policy prohibits the use and possession of marijuana on campus.
It remains illegal to take marijuana through airport security. If TSA’s screening procedures, which are governed by federal law, discover an item that may violate Federal law, TSA will refer the matter to law enforcement which may result in a criminal investigation.
When and where can marijuana be purchased in Whatcom County?
The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) is the governing agency responsible for determining the number and location of licenses issued to producers, processors and retailers.
On March 5, 2014, the WSLCB approved the first producer license. Once the licenses are approved, the timeline to have product available is roughly:
- one week for clones (a cutting from a mother plant) to take root
- two months in vegetation (18 hours of light daily)
- 9-10 weeks to flower (12 hours of light)
- and another 5 to 15 days to trim and cure the product, depending upon the producers unique curing process.
Whatcom County was determined by population to be eligible for 15 retail marijuana stores. (The first two stores opened in early July)
Bans and Moratoriums
As the WSLCB acknowledged in a news release dated Feb. 19, 2014: “Several communities and jurisdictions across Washington have enacted local bans or moratoriums on recreational marijuana businesses. In a formal Attorney General Opinion issued January 16, 2014, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that “I-502 left in place the normal powers of local governments to regulate within their jurisdictions” and that “…nothing in I-502 limits that authority with respect to licensed marijuana businesses.”
All visitors should be mindful of local laws, as well as state and federal laws.
- Washington State Liquor Control Board: http://lcb.wa.gov/marijuana/I-502
- Washington State Legislature Medical Cannabis Act: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=69.51a&full=true
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: http://apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa/cib_results.aspx?search=marijuana
- Washington Traffic Safety Commission: http://www.wtsc.wa.gov/programs-priorities/impaired-driving/
- LegalMatch.com: http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/federal-marijuana-laws.html
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Controlled Substances Act: http://www.fda.gov/regulatoryinformation/legislation/ucm148726.htm
- SmokeFreeWashington.com: http://www.smokefreewashington.com/laws/smokinginpublic.php
- Washington State Legislature Smoking in Public Places Act: http://www.smokefreewashington.com/laws/smokinginpublic.php
- Washington Lodging Association: http://www.walodging.org/resources/news_view.php?id=540
- Western Washington University Viking Union Smoking Policy: http://www.vu.wwu.edu/policies/SmokingPolicy.pdf
- Western Washington University Campus Policy on Marijuana: http://onlinefast.org/wwutoday/news/campus-policy-unchanged-following-marijuana-initiative
- Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security: http://apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa/cib_results.aspx?search=marijuana
None of the above should be considered legal advice, but is instead offered to provide information and address rising issues in the Bellingham and Whatcom County Tourism industry related to Initiative 502.