Medical Marijuana (Cannabis)
We are in the midst of a transition regarding how medical marijuana (cannabis) is regulated. This page is intended to keep you current regarding the changes, and the diverse ways that different jurisdictions are coping with the process. An ambitious move toward full regulation of medical marijuana was passed by the state legislature in 2011, but key provisions were vetoed by Governor Gregoire. “Collective gardens” are specifically allowed under current state legislation, but dispensaries are not. The resulting regulations are not fully consistent, and there are many unanswered questions. Also, Washington’s medical marijuana laws conflict with federal drug laws, which do not recognize any medical uses for the drug.
Current Status of Medical Marijuana in Washington State
The 2012 legislature did not pass any amendments to the current medical marijuana statutes, and Initiative 502 did not contain any amendments to the medical marijuana statutes, so now there are two clearly separate regulatory systems, one dealing with medical marijuana and the other dealing with adult recreational use of marijuana. Local jurisdictions will need to enact zoning provisions in the future for businesses that grow or retail recreational marijuana, but that is a separate issue from medical marijuana collective garden zoning (though it is possible that there might be similar zoning approaches used for both). For previous updates, see Chronology of Medical Marijuana Regulation in Washington State below.
Federal Law and Policies
- Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. Ch. 13 - Drug Abuse Prevention and Control, via U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
- Memorandum for Selected United State Attorneys (), Subject: Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 10/19/2009
- VHA Directive 2011-004, Access to Clinical Programs for Veterans Participating in State-Approved Marijuana Programs, Veterans Health Administration, 01/31/2011
- Memorandum for Selected United State Attorneys (), Subject: Guidance Regarding the Ogden Memo in Jurisdictions Seeking to Authorize Marijuana for Medical Use, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 06/29/2011
- Gov. Gregoire's Letter and Petition to the Federal Government (), 11/30/2011 - Seeking to have marijuana rescheduled so that it can be prescribed as a medical treatment for appropriate patients
Washington Law and Policies as They Currently Exist
- Medical Marijuana in Washington (), Fall 2012 WSAMA presentation by Jon Walker, Deputy City Attorney and police legal advisor for Tacoma.
- Are Sales of "Medical Marijuana" Subject to Sales Tax?, Washington State Department of Revenue Tax Topics
- Washington State Department of Health Medical Marijuana webpage
- Medical Marijuana Fact Sheet (), Association of Washington Cities, 07/2011
- Reefer Madness: What Employers Need to Know About Medical Marijuana and Drug Testing Under Washington Law, by Brian M. Flock and M. Edward Taylor, MRSC HR Advisor, July 2011
- Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Mgmt. (Colo.), LLC, 152 Wn. App. 388 (2009), review granted, 168 Wn.2d 1025 (2010) - The Court of Appeals ruled that Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act does not protect medical marijuana users from adverse hiring or disciplinary decisions based on an employer’s drug test policy
- Update: Medical Cannabis (), by W. Scott Snyder, Senior Member, Ogden Murphy Wallace, Municipal, Municipal Research News, Summer 2011
- Washington Non-discrimination Laws and the Use of Medical Marijuana (), Washington State Human Rights Commission, 03/2009, modified 06/2011
- Medical Marijuana Uses - Local Regulation (), by Carol Morris, Morris Law, P.C., Seabeck, WA. Memo discussing the current status of the laws regarding city regulation of collective gardens, with a helpful listing of the issues a city might want to consider, 11/18/2011, updated 03/09/2012, 07/19/2012
- Letter to Board of Clark County Commissioners (), from the United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, re application of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to the Board of Clark County Commissioners and Clark County Employees, 01/17/2012 - This letter appears to be a response to the extensive medical marijuana statutory changes originally passed by the 2011 legislature, many of which were vetoed by Governor Gregoire
Washington Local Government Ordinances
- Bellevue Ordinance No. 6058 () - Adopts interim zoning controls regarding medical marijuana collective gardens for a period of six months, passed 5/07/2012
- Castle Rock Ordinance No. 2011-08 () - Adopts interim zoning controls regarding medical marijuana collective gardens for a period of six months, passed 07/11/2011
- Chelan Ordinance No. 2012-1437 () - Adds Sec. 17.04.160, collective gardens, as authorized by Washington law and federal law, shall be permitted in all zoning districts, passed 05/10/2012
- Ordinance No. 13-0392 () - Adds Ch. 18.110, marijuana related uses; combines issues related to zoning for medical marijuana collective gardens and zoning for recreational marijuana, passed 01/08/2013
- Ordinance No. 11-0357 () - Amendment to business license provision clarifying that no business license will be issued to a local business for any activity that is illegal under state or federal law, passed 03/22/2011
- Edmonds Ordinance No. 3833 () - Adopts moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries, passed 01/18/2011
- Ellensburg Ordinance No. 4895 () - Adopts interim official zoning controls regarding medical cannabis collective gardens for a period of six months, to be in effect while the city drafts, considers, holds hearings and adopts "permanent" collective garden zoning regulations, passed 08/01/2011
- Everett Ordinance No. 3231-11 () - Establishes interim zoning regulations for collective gardens, passed 07/20/2011
- Issaquah Ordinance No. 2633 () - Adopts zoning and licensing regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens, passed 12/05/2011
- Kent Ordinance No. 4036 () - Adds Secs. 15.02.074 and 15.08.290 the Kent City Code to specify that medical cannabis collective gardens are not permitted in any zoning district within the city, passed 06/05/2012
- Longview Ordinance No. 3239 () - Adds Ch. 19.72,
zoning restrictions on the cultivation of medical cannabis (marijuana) in collective gardens, passed 01/17/2013
- Mukilteo Ordinance No. 1304 () - Allows medical cannabis collective gardens as a permitted land use in the light industrial zoning district; adds Ch. 5.70, medical cannabis collective gardens safety license, passed 05/07/2012
- Redmond Municipal Code Sec. 9.14.015 - Medical Use of Marijuana - Adopts RCW 69.51A.010-69.51A.060 by reference
- Ruston Ordinance No. 1364 () - Adds Ch. 25.04, medical cannabis, passed 04/19/2012
- Ordinance No. 12-1011 () - Re-adopts a moratorium on the establishment of medical cannabis dispensaries and collective gardens; medical cannabis dispensaries and medical cannabis collective gardens are designated as prohibited uses; no business license shall be issued to any person or entity for a medical cannabis dispensary and/or a medical cannabis collective garden, passed 07/24/2012
- Ordinance No. 11-1015 () - Adopts moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens, passed 08/09/2011
- Materials Presented at a City Council Study Session in support for the governor's petition to reclassify cannabis for medical use from a Schedule I Controlled Substance to a Schedule II under federal law, 02/28/2012
- Ordinance No. 643 () - Adds Sec. 20.40.275, adds collective gardens for the growing and distribution of medical cannabis as a permitted land use, passed 07/16/2012
- Ordinance No. 625 () - Extends land use regulations of Ordinance No. 611 for six months; adds Article VII to Ch. 5.07, collective gardens; amends Section 3.01.035(B), license fees for collective gardens, passed 01/09/2012
- Tacoma Status and Progress of the Medical Cannabis Moratorium
- Tukwila Ordinance No. 2379 () - Renews twelve-month moratorium on the establishment, location, operation, licensing, maintenance or continuation of medical marijuana collective gardens or dispensaries, passed 08/06/2012
- Woodinville Ordinance No. 541 () - Prohibits the establishment of medical cannabis collective gardens and medical cannabis dispensaries, passed 02/21/2012
- Ordinance No. 1245 ( - Enacts a moratorium prohibiting the licensing, establishment, maintenance or continuation of any medical Cannabis collective garden; collective gardens are designated as prohibited uses; no business license shall be issued to any person for collective gardens, passed 07/16/2012
- Ordinance No. 1215 () - Amends Sec. 5.04.090, business license issuance; expands legal compliance to include all local, state and federal laws, passed 07/05/2011
- Yakima Ordinance No. 2012-03 () - Adds Section 15.01.035; no use that
is illegal under local, state or federal law shall be
allowed in any zone of the city; such regulation applies to medical marijuana dispensaries and
collective gardens, passed 01/17/2012
- Model Ordinance () prepared by Carol Morris, Morris Law, P.C., Seabeck, WA. Adopting zoning restrictions on the cultivation of medical cannabis (marijuana) for personal use and in collective gardens, describing the land use impacts triggering such restrictions, identifying the permitted zone for collective gardens, establishing separation and distance requirements within the permitted zone, establishing procedures for enforcement of violations including abatement of cannabis nuisances, repealing the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and the interim zoning ordinance on collective gardens.
Chronology of Medical Marijuana Regulation in Washington State
December 20, 2011 Update
Information about the Governor's petition for marijuana reclassification is available on Governor Gregoire's website. See Gov. Gregoire Files Petition to Reclassify Marijuana. Cities interested in supporting the Governor's petition and signing onto a letter endorsing the petition should contact Candice Bock by January 6, 2012. Read the letter of support () from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC).
November 21, 2011 Update
Many Washington cities adopted moratoriums during the summer months, delaying the adoption of zoning or other regulations concerning medical marijuana collective gardens. A review of the various ordinances submitted to MRSC shows that at least three jurisdictions (Castle Rock, Ellensburg and Shoreline) have adopted interim regulations; those ordinances are posted below. In the coming two months many jurisdictions are going to need to adopt their own regulations, or extend their moratoriums.
Last week federal agents raided over a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries in King, Pierce and Thurston counties, making it clear that the federal government will take action against individuals who are operating beyond the scope of allowed activity under the state's current medical marijuana laws. However, we have not seen indications that the federal authorities in Western Washington are intervening if the activity is ostensibly within state law and involves certified medical marijuana patients.
June 16, 2011 Update
As expected, MRSC is receiving inquiries regarding the amendments to the medical Cannabis statutes, particularly the options open to cities and counties in regard to "collective gardens," which are now specifically authorized under state law. First, a caveat: there is going to be confusion regarding regulation of these gardens and medical Cannabis issues in general until the law is amended, by the legislature or by citizen initiative. Here are some of our thoughts on the topic, but we encourage all jurisdictions to review these issues with your own legal advisor. We suspect that there will be significant differences in how various local governments approach these issues.
Cities and counties can place zoning restrictions and impose licensing requirements on collective gardens, but it is not clear whether local governments can totally prohibit them, so long as the collective gardens comply with the restrictions on the numbers of plants and numbers of qualified patients. See Sections 403 and 1102 of E2SSB 5073. Also, Chapter 69.51A RCW still allows a "qualified patient" or a "designated provider" to possess a quantity of Cannabis not exceeding a 60-day supply for a patient, which has been interpreted in the regulations as including up to 15 Cannabis plants, so individual gardens are clearly allowed. [If you have been following this webpage recently you will notice that we have changed our interpretation twice on the issue of whether collective gardens can be prohibited. That is a measure of how we are struggling with interpretation of the provisions that go into effect on July 22nd.
If a city or county refuses to issue a business license or land use permit application for a collective garden, be aware that there are medical marijuana supporters who may choose to file a lawsuit challenging that action. An attorney general opinion on the topic could be helpful. The judicial system may not be of much help; legislative changes to the current statutes are likely before a dispute makes its way through the courts, particularly if there is an appeal. Each city, town and county should discuss how they will respond when a person walks through the door and asks if they can have a collective garden on their property, or asks if they need a permit to have a collective garden.
A storefront dispensary that sold Cannabis to anyone walking in the door with a "qualified patient" card would appear to be in violation of both state and federal laws at this time. However, we don't know how actively federal DEA agents will pursue dispensaries in Washington, and we don't know the intent of city and county law enforcement agencies or prosecutors.
Legislation Update May 25, 2011
Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5073 passed the legislature on April 22nd, and was partially approved by Governor Gregoire on April 29th. The governor vetoed a significant portion of the legislation and expressed her reservations about certain provisions that involved state employees in activity that could be interpreted as in violation of federal laws. The one remaining piece of legislation dealing with medical Cannabis (SB 5955) has been tabled. Here is a recap of the major provisions of the 2011 legislation (E2SSB 5073) remaining after the governor's veto of certain sections . The following changes will be incorporated into chapter 69.51A RCW, the current RCW chapter dealing with medical marijuana.
- Up to ten qualifying patients may join together and have a collective garden with a maximum of 45 plants. [Section 402 of the legislation]
- A minimum of 15 days must elapse when a qualified provider switches from being the provider for one qualifying patient to being the provider for a different qualifying patient. This appears to eliminate the argument used by most dispensaries to justify providing Cannabis to multiple patients, one after another. [Section 404]
- Nothing in the medical Cannabis statutes require an employer with a drug-free workplace policy to accommodate medical use of Cannabis. [Section 501]
- All the provisions in the legislation that provided for licensed producers, processors, and dispensers were vetoed by the governor. [Sections 601 through 611, sections 701 through 705, and sections 801 through 807]
- All provisions establishing a state registry for patients, providers, dispensers, and collective gardens were vetoed. [Sections 901-902]
- There is a broad indemnity provision that protects local government officials for actions taken to enforce the laws regarding medical Cannabis if they are made in good faith. [Section 1101(2)]
- Section 1102 of the legislation provides that cities, towns and counties may adopt and enforce zoning requirements, business licensing requirements, health and safety requirements, and business taxes. All such regulations could apply to collective gardens, and could prohibit collective gardens from being sited next to or within a certain designated distance of other collective gardens, thus prohibiting large scale grow operations.
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