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Updated 07/2014

Recreational Marijuana: A Guide for Local Governments

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With Initiative 502 passed, the feds giving the green light, and new regulations effective November 16th, it's time for local governments across Washington State to get serious about a regulated recreational marijuana industry!

To help, MRSC has put together a comprehensive guide for local governments on how to implement recreational marijuana on the municipal level. In the following web pages you 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

State Attorney General Says Cities and Counties Can Ban Recreational Marijuana Uses, 01/16/2014

AWC Webinar on Licensing Issues - Includes detailed presentations by Alan Rathbun of the state Liquor Control Board, and Jon Walker, Deputy City Attorney of Tacoma. 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, 11/12/2013

MRSC Insight

Stay up-to-date on recreational marijuana and other municipal governance issues through MRSC's blog, MRSC Insight.

Key Facts

Click on any of the headers below for more information related to recreational marijuana in Washington State.

Land Use and Zoning

I-502 provides for a 1,000 foot buffer separation between licensed marijuana businesses and designated, schools, parks, recreation centers, etc. All licensed marijuana businesses will need to comply with local government land use and zoning regulations. There is a regulatory process established for local government agencies to object to the proposed issuance of a marijuana business license to a specific individual or for a specific location within their jurisdiction.

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

Regulatory Compliance

The state liquor control board is starting to issue 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 and private recreational use of marijuana. Police officers may arrest individuals for driving under the influence of marijuana and issue citations for consuming marijuana in public. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has until December, 2013, to establish the procedures and criteria for issuing licenses to produce, process, and sell marijuana. Until retail stores licensed by the Liquor Control Board are open for business, there is no legal way to obtain the drug for non-medicinal use.

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

Revenues from the excise tax on marijuana will be distributed primarily to the Liquor Control Board for administrative expenses, to the state's Basic Health Plan, to the state general fund, and to health-related programs. B&O and local retail sales taxes apply.

For more information, see our page on Taxing Recreational Marijuana.

Federal Government

The federal government, through the Department of Justice, has indicated a willingness to allow this new approach toward marijuana being pioneered by the States of Washington and Colorado. However, the federal government has indicated a number of concerns, which seem to be addressed by the provisions in initiative 502 and the proposed rules being adopted by the Liquor Control Board.

For more information, see our page on Federal Response to State Regulated Marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

I-502 makes no mention of medical marijuana. Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act (Ch. 69.51A RCW) remains unchanged. Medical marijuana dispensaries will not automatically become retail marijuana stores, but it is possible that a medical marijuana collective garden/dispensary could change to being a recreational marijuana retail store if the owner obtained a state license for the sale of recreational marijuana.

For more information on I-502 and medical marijuana, see our page on Medical v. Recreational Marijuana.

Recommended Reads

Liquor Control Board Documents

Staff Reports

  • Bellevue - Staff memorandum, 07/13/2013
  • Everett - Official comments to the Liquor Control Board, 07/31/2013
  • Kirkland - Planning department memo, 07/13/2013
  • Mukilteo - Staff report, 04/08/2013
  • Spokane Valley - Briefing to city Council, 07/16/2013

Association of Washington Cities Resources

  • Comments to the Liquor Control Board, 06/04/2013
  • FAQ for cities
  • AWC Webinars - A series of webinars and short videos produced by the Association of Washington Cities on various marijuana issues. The webinars provide more detailed information on the issues that have arisen over the past year as the state moves forward with a regulated and taxed public marijuana industry.

New Regulations for Personal Use

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.


1. The Arlington moratorium applies to producers and processors, but not retailers.

2. The Lakewood ordinance amended the city’s licensing code in November of 2013 to provide that all businesses operating in the city have to be compliant with local, state and federal law.

3. On September 30, 2013, the Sunnyside city council voted to extend the city's moratorium on the producing, processing and selling of recreational marijuana within city limits to 12 months from its original six months.

4. In Kittitas County retailing of marijuana is prohibited in the unincorporated areas of the county.

5. San Juan County will accommodate state licensed marijuana businesses under its existing zoning regulations.

6. In Skagit County, licensed marijuana businesses are permitted in established county zones, in accordance with the Guidance Memo. See also the county's Press Release from December 5th, 2013.

7. Jefferson County’s moratorium only applies to producers and processors, it does not impact licensed retail marijuana businesses.

8. While Sumas does allow production and process as conditional uses, there is a moratorium on retail uses.

9. Entiat does not directly prohibit marijuana but requires business applicants to sign a form stating they are following local, state, and federal laws.


Need more information?

Feel free to Ask MRSC. Washington cities, counties, and our contract partners can call or email MRSC for more information and advice - free of charge.