The state of Washington has long been a leader in progressive and forward-thinking causes. This is especially true regarding cannabis policy: Washington state was one of the original four – the others being Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska – to allow for the legal possession and use of recreational cannabis.
History of Washington State
While Washington’s laws on the matter continue to evolve, The Evergreen State’s attitude towards cannabis is one that states around the country would do well to emulate.
Washington state first allowed for the possession and use of medical cannabis via the passage of Initiative 692 in 1998. Fast forward to 2012 and the state’s voters affirmed a ballot measure – known as I-502 – that allowed for the legal cultivation, use, and distribution of recreational cannabis.
The provision in the law allowing for the substance’s possession kicked in on December 6, 2012, 30 days following the measure’s passage. The state’s first retail cannabis shop opened for business a year and a half later, on July 8, 2014.
Washington state allows for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis for private consumption by those aged 21 and over. Those found with up to 1 ounce of cannabis for public consumption may be fined a maximum of $100. Individuals may also possess varying amounts of cannabis concentrates and edibles.
Unlike several states around the country that allow for the legal use of recreational cannabis, Washington does not allow for unlicensed individuals to cultivate the product: Those found doing so face a felony charge, resulting in a possible 5-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.
Individuals are allowed to possess cannabis paraphernalia, such as pipes and bongs. Advertising of such products is prohibited, however, and may result in a prison sentence of up to 90 days and a fine of up to $1,000.
The retail sale of cannabis is overseen by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB). Prospective cannabis retail shops are prohibited from being established within 1000 feet of elementary or secondary schools, as well as playgrounds, public parks, and other specific places in which children may be found.
Initiatives passed in other states allowing for recreational cannabis consumption and possession oftentimes result in calamitous outcomes, in both the financial and social spheres. The same cannot be said for Washington.
A recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) indicates that Washington’s has been the model law for the country in terms of its implementation and the outcome of its policies.
According to the DPA’s Tamar Todd,
Marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure – to individuals, communities, and the entire country… Washington should be praised for developing a smarter, more responsible approach to mariuana.
The report displays in stark relief the extent of Washington’s success: all categories of cannabis-related offenses are down by staggering amounts; violent crime as a whole has decreased since the measure’s passage; tax revenues from the sale of cannabis have grossed almost $100 million and have benefited prevention and treatment programs, community health services, and numerous other initiatives; and law enforcement expenditures on cannabis-related law enforcement has dropped by millions of dollars.