The short answer is, yes, weed is legal in Washington State in all cities, including major cities like Seattle and Tacoma, for both medical and recreational users, but this doesn't mean there's a marijuana free-for-all in the Northwest. There are still rules and regulations, and the situation continues to change as the rules roll out, and as more and more stores open (and many medical stores close or convert).
With the passage of I-502 in the 2012 Washington State election, marijuana became legal in Washington—not just for medical use, but also for recreational use. However, weed is still illegal as far as the United States federal government is concerned. Still, there has been no federal interference as several states, including Colorado and Oregon, have voted to change their marijuana laws as well.
Rules about Using and Buying Pot in Washington State
While the initiative was approved in 2012, the state took some time to set up actual marijuana retail outlets. Even years later, the situation continues to evolve. As of July 2016, medical marijuana dispensaries were no longer legally allowed to operate as the transition to one system continued. All businesses that sell were also required to be licensed by the state at that time so some stores and dispensaries you may have seen before that may have closed down.
To read about those changes, check out this piece from the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board.
The laws are similar to alcohol laws—you must be over 21 to use or possess marijuana. If you're a minor, any illicit substances are off limits according to the law.
Adults 21 and older can legally have one ounce of marijuana.
You can have this marijuana on your person, but can’t open it, display it or use it in public—again, just like alcohol rules.
If you do get caught using weed in public, it will no longer mean an arrest, but instead a civil infraction.
If you are a licensed marijuana grower or seller, you are allowed to grow the plant in your home and/or sell it. There are restrictions on those who sell, including that the sales must be within Washington and that any individual selling must have his or her own license. Licenses must specify the name of only one seller and the location where they will sell. Licenses can only be used by one person.
Separate licenses are required for each seller, each location and for some different products sold.
Licenses can’t be obtained by anyone under 21 or who hasn’t lived in Washington for at least three months.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board developed (and continues to develope) rules to monitor marijuana production and sales, including details about the retail outlets, marijuana literature, rules about sanitation/packaging/processing, methods of screening and hiring employees involved in sales, hours and locations of retail outlets that will sell marijuana.
If you're interested in doing anything beyond going into one of the retail stores and buying an ounce or less, check the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board website to make sure you know the rules.
Stores that sell marijuana can only sell marijuana, so don’t expect to see pot showing up in the produce section at your local grocery store. Store locations are also limited in the locations they can choose so they're often in light industrial areas or places a little off the beaten path to keep them away from schools and minors. So don't expect Seattle to be quite like Amsterdam.
You are still not allowed to drive under the influence of anything—marijuana, alcohol or any other substances.
It’s still illegal to buy marijuana off the street. The new laws only make it legal to buy it from legally licensed distributors.
Retailers won’t be allowed to set up shop within 1,000 feet of anywhere that minors commonly spend time, like schools, community centers or public parks. They also can’t have any fancy signage that might appeal to minors.
Marijuana retail sales will be taxed at a rate of 25% and the taxes go toward a variety of programs from public education to community health resources.
Much like driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence of pot is also still illegal. If your blood test shows a THC concentration of 5.0 or higher, you will be considered to be driving under the influence.
Read the full I-502 yourself.