Written by attorney Scott Weymouth Lawrence

Legal Guide to Marijuana Use in Seattle

Washington Initiative 502 passed in November 2012, making it legal for adults 21and over to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of solid products infused with marijuana (brownies, for example), or up to 72 ounces of infused liquid products such as oil. The law also states that possession must be for personal use only. The law took effect on December 6, 2012, with a one-year period for the determination of rules and a system for licensing by the state to regulate both production and sale of marijuana. The initiative clarifies the law over previous Initiative 75, which passed in 2003 and made minor marijuana possession the lowest enforcement priority for the Seattle Police Department.

Federal Law vs. State Law

It's important to note that, while I-502 makes personal possession of marijuana legal in Washington State, federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic. The Seattle Police Department's policy is to follow state law rather than federal for minor possession; however, possessing the drug on federal property such as the federal courthouse or military base is not recommended. The Seattle Police Department officers and detectives will not participate in any federal investigation of marijuana users or marijuana-related businesses unless the crime is prohibited under state law as well. However, it is important to understand that possession of more than 30 grams or the distribution of marijuana is a felony under federal law. You can be prosecuted in federal court regardless of state law. In addition, according to the initiative, it is unlawful to open a package of marijuana in public. As with public drinking, which is prohibited in many areas, consuming marijuana in public may result in a ticket. Smoking marijuana in areas where cigarette smoking is prohibited could also result in a civil infraction.

Production and Distribution

Currently, it is illegal to grow and distribute marijuana, even just to friends and family. Once state regulations are sorted out, however, you may be able to get a license to grow or sell marijuana. Growing marijuana for personal non-medical use only will remain illegal. The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) has until December 1, 2013 to establish guidelines for the sale and distribution of marijuana. Until that time, growing and selling non-medical marijuana remains illegal.

Driving Under the Influence

Although consuming marijuana in private is now allowable under Washington law, driving under the influence is not, as is the case with alcohol. If you are pulled over because an officer believes you are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you will be asked to take field sobriety test and potentially taken in for blood testing. (NOTE: Always ask to speak with an attorney before agreeing to take the roadside tests, blood test or answer any questions.) In the event you cause a serious accident, that results in substantial harm to anyone, blood testing may be conducted without your consent. THC blood level limits will eventually be set by the WSLCB. Until then the "legal limit" for drivers over the age of 21 is currently greater or equal to 5 ng/ml, a relatively low level. Thus, while you may not feel too impaired to drive you may be risking a DUI conviction if you drive after smoking any amount of marijuana. I-502 also established a "zero tolerance" policy for THC. Because active THC can remain in one's blood for many hours, and can be stored and released in the body for months, minors who smoke marijuana may be at risk of conviction anytime they get behind a wheel. If you are have marijuana in your car and are pulled over for some other infraction, a police officer does not have the right to search your car without a warrant. The smell of marijuana does not justify a search warrant under state law. However, if you are arrested for DUI the officer may be able to search your vehicle for evidence of the crime without a warrant. (NOTE: Never consent to the search of your vehicle or property without first consulting an attorney.)

Minors in Possession

Initiative 502 states that you must be 21 years of age or older to legally possess marijuana. If you are a minor and are caught with marijuana, you are breaking the law and may be referred for prosecution. Although at this time, distribution is still illegal for everyone, it is likely that even if you become a legal distributor, you will be subject to legal action if you provide marijuana to minors.

Open Cases

If the Seattle Police Department confiscated your marijuana before the new law passed, you will not get it back and your case will proceed under the old rules. Additionally, if you were caught with marijuana prior to December 6, 2012, he previous law will apply to your case. However, marijuana possession was a lowest priority offense prior to I-502, which is in your favor. Different courts around Washington are dealing with the issue of possession of marijuana cases filed prior to the new laws. Some are simply dismissing all their old POM cases, while others are not.


It is important to remember that growing and distributing unlicensed or unregulated marijuana, possession in large amounts, and possession as a minor all remain illegal even under the new law. Additionally, as the WSLCB determines how it will be regulated and licensed, things are likely to change. Final regulations will be set by December 1, 2013.

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