Washington Dispensary Laws

LAST UPDATED JANUARY 27, 2021

When it comes to legalizing cannabis, Washington state is the original success story. In 2012, Washington became the very first U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis after more than a decade of medical legalization. With the passing of Initiative 502, adults over the age of 21 became legally allowed to purchase and possess cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. The state still has an active medical marijuana program as well.

With one of the most mature markets in the country, the legal cannabis industry has grown at a staggering rate in Washington and now contributes roughly $2 billion a year to the state’s economy, according to a recent report on 2020 cannabis sales from Washington State University. Retail cannabis sales alone have grown 605% between 2015 and 2020, the report found.

Cova’s cannabis retail software suite is fully integrated with Leaf Data Systems, making it easier than ever for retailers to receive products and report their inventory data to the state. With Cova, retail owners can automate state reporting, build rapport with customers on the sales floor, monitor all locations remotely, plus much more.

Below, we’ve provided answers to some of the most pressing questions for cannabis retailers in Washington. But as the industry matures and loopholes or problems in the law are identified, these rules could change. As such, we will keep this page updated as changes arise. This page is informational only and should not be considered legal advice.

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Washington Cannabis Laws

Here are the basics on cannabis law in Washington.

Who is able to purchase cannabis in Washington?

Any adult over 21 years old, whether resident or visitor, with a valid ID can purchase cannabis from a licensed cannabis dispensary in Washington. The state also has a program for medical marijuana patients.

What is the process for getting a Medical Marijuana ID card?

To register on the state’s Medical Marijuana Registry, a patient will need a medical marijuana authorization from a healthcare practitioner. Then they have to meet with a certified medical marijuana consultant at a medically-endorsed dispensary to receive a medical recognition card. This card allows a patient to purchase three times the daily limit of recreational buyers. They will also be exempt from sales and use taxes.

Are there specific qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients?

Yes, the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in Washington are:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic Renal Failure
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy and other seizure disorders
  • Spasticity disorders
  • Intractable Pain
  • Glaucoma
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Anorexia
  • Appetite Loss
  • Nausea
  • Cachexia or Wasting Syndrome
  • PTSD
  • Traumatic brain injury

How long is a Medical Recognition card valid?

For adults, these medical recognitions expire every year and for minors, they expire every six months.

Can adults grow cannabis at home?

No, currently Washington cannabis law does not allow for any homegrown cannabis.

Retail Cannabis Licensing in Washington

Are you considering opening a retail cannabis location in WA? Here are the basics you should know first.

What state agency is in charge of cannabis licensing in WA?

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) is in charge of all licensing and regulation of the state’s cannabis industry. They are in charge of approving or denying applications and ensuring licensed businesses stay compliant.

What licenses are available?

There are three main licensing tiers in Washington state: marijuana producer, processor, or retailer. There are also transportation licenses that are very limited in scope.

Is the state still accepting new applications for retail cannabis locations?

The state has closed the application process for new retail or producer licenses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean hope is lost. Interested parties can purchase a license from an existing cannabis business. The same application process and fees will apply for the potential new owner and you will likely need an attorney to manage the buying process.

What is the cost to apply for a cannabis license?

The application fee for all license types is $266 and the cost to renew a license each year is $1,062.

Can an entity hold more than one license at a time?

One entity cannot hold all three license types, but they can hold a producer and processor simultaneously. A producer or processor cannot also be a retailer.

What are the applicant requirements?

All “true parties of interest” (owners, investors or anyone that stands to profit off of the business) and their spouse(s) have to undergo extensive criminal and financial background checks for licensing. True parties of interest must also be Washington residents for at least six months prior to applying and remain a resident through the life of their ownership.

A criminal history can prevent you from receiving a license in Washington state. The WSLCB has established a point system for criminal history based on the type of crime, number of crimes and when the crime(s) were committed. Felony charges can be automatically disqualifying.

Can a cannabis business receive out-of-state funds or investments?

The state’s law recently changed to allow for some level of out-of-state investment. But before any out-of-state money is accepted into the business, it has to be approved by the WSLCB.

Washington Dispensary Laws

Getting a cannabis retail license is just the first step. Here’s what you need to know to keep a dispensary compliant.

Where can a dispensary be located?

A dispensary cannot be located within 1,000 feet of any elementary school or secondary school, playground, recreation or child care center, public park, public transit center, library or arcade that allows minors.

Local governments have the ability to reduce this 1,000 foot rule all the way down to 100 feet for anywhere except schools.

What can dispensaries sell?

Dispensaries in Washington are only allowed to sell flower, concentrates, infused products and paraphernalia. They cannot sell any branded merchandise like t-shirts or hats.

What are the operating hours for dispensaries?

State law allows dispensaries to operate between the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., but local governments can amend this.

What are the daily purchase limits for cannabis in WA?

In a single day, adults 21 and up can purchase up to:

  • One ounce of cannabis
  • 16 ounces (453.39 grams) of cannabis infused edibles
  • 72 fluid ounces (2.13 L) of cannabis liquid
  • 21 grams of cannabis concentrate

Are there different purchase limits for medical marijuana patients?

Yes, any medical marijuana patient with a valid medical recognition card is allowed three times the purchase limit that recreational users are permitted.

What taxes must be collected on cannabis?

A dispensary must collect a 37% excise tax plus local retail sales taxes at the time of sale.

Do changes to a cannabis business need to be approved by the WSLCB?

Yes, even minute changes to the business have to approved by the WSLCB before they are implemented. That includes anything from a floor plan change, to a location change or even a change in upper management.

Cannabis Tracking and Reporting Requirements

What seed-to-sale tracking system is used by the state?

Leaf Data Systems is the newest seed-to-sale tracking system implemented by the state. All licensed cannabis businesses are required to have and maintain a Leaf account.

Does the Cova POS integrate with Washington’s Leaf system?

Yes, Cova has worked hard to keep our tools up-to-date with the newest traceability system in Washington. The Cova POS can easily record and report all of the information needed for Washington’s monthly retail reports.

Cannabis Advertising & Marketing Laws

What restrictions are there regarding cannabis advertising?

There are specific restrictions depending on the advertising medium that we will address below, but overall there are some common restrictions across the board.

First, no advertisements for anything cannabis-related can be attractive to minors (no cartoon characters or public figures appealing to a younger age group) or promote underage or out-of-state consumption. Second, no product can claim any therapeutic or curative effects. Lastly, any cannabis advertisement must include the following government warnings:

  • "This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming.";
  • "Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.";
  • "There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product."; and
  • "For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of the reach of children.”

What kind of signage are dispensaries allowed to have?

Each licensed retail location can have two signs at their location with their business name or trade name. These signs cannot be larger than 1,600 square feet (measured from the outer frame). No signs can be on the road pointing in the direction of the dispensary, they can only be affixed or hanging from the building or windows of the actual storefront.

What can the signs include on them?

The signs can include the business name, location and identify the nature of the business. It cannot have any photos or depictions of cannabis and it cannot be appealing to minors.

Are cannabis advertisements on billboards allowed?

A cannabis dispensary can advertise on billboards with some restrictions. First, the billboard can only contain the same information as signage on the storefront (i.e., name of business, address and nature of business). It cannot contain any photos or depictions of the cannabis plant (this includes any logo with a cannabis leaf) or appeal to minors. No matter the design, the billboard must say that cannabis can only be purchased and possessed by adults over 21 years old.

Are dispensaries allowed to host giveaways or coupons?

No, dispensaries cannot give away any product or coupons. They can, however, encourage customers to sign up for an email or text list and offer specials that way.

Can a dispensary sell branded merchandise?

No, a dispensary is only allowed to sell legal cannabis products and paraphernalia. But branded merchandise for a dispensary can be sold on their website or through a separate entity.

Can a dispensary advertise in print media?

Yes, a dispensary is allowed to advertise in print publications, but with a few restrictions. The publication cannot target or distribute to an audience out of state or underage. And the content of the advertisement must follow the same rules as billboards and signage (no cannabis depictions or photos, cartoon characters or anything appealing to minors and must include government warnings). Local jurisdictions are able to establish additional advertising rules, so always check for relevant local laws.

What is allowed in terms of online advertising?

A retail cannabis business can have a website, but it cannot appeal to or solicit anyone under the age of 21. You can sell branded non-cannabis merchandise on your website, but all cannabis products must be purchased in store.

Can a dispensary host, attend or sponsor events?

Yes, a dispensary can host or sponsor an event, but only if attendees are over 21 years old. They cannot have product on hand, neither as a free gift or sold.

Where can I find more information about cannabis advertising laws in Washington?

Rules and regulations regarding advertising for Washington cannabis companies are constantly changing. You can view the WSLCB’s Q&A on advertising here.

ron-segev

Ron Segev

Cannabis Business Lawyer & Founding Partner, Segev LLP

Legally reviewed by

Ron Segev

Ron Segev is the founding partner of Segev LLP. A practical-minded business lawyer with expertise in the cannabis industry, he represents cultivators, dispensaries, CBD extractors, oil extractors, food processors, media and marketing companies, consultancies, and other businesses in the legal cannabis market.

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