Washington is one of the states that are well-known for having progressive marijuana laws. Having one of the most mature cannabis markets in the US, it has raked in a growing amount each year in taxes since legalizing adult-use in 2012. In fact, the state collected a total of $395.5 million in legal marijuana income and license fees in 2019 and sales marijuana continued to rise sharply even during the pandemic.
The Evergreen State also continues to break new ground in terms of marijuana reform. Just this year, the state’s lawmakers passed HB2870 which redistributes forfeited, revoked, or canceled cultivation licenses to people of color so they can have more opportunities to reap the benefits of Washington’s burgeoning weed industry.
There is also a big possibility that Washingtonians will finally be allowed to grow at home this year. A home cultivation bill, HB 1019, was reportedly well-received in a hearing this month. The bill, which will allow adults to grow up to 6 plants for personal use, was sponsored by Rep. Shelley Kloba who is also the current chair of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee. Lawmakers are expected to vote to advance the legislation in an executive session later this month.
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
Overview of Cannabis Growing Laws in Washington
As expected, only registered adult patients and providers (caregivers) are allowed to cultivate under Washington’s marijuana laws.
- Recognized cardholders are allowed to cultivate 6 plants and possess up to 8 ounces of usable marijuana from their plants. Those who choose not to be entered into the database can only grow up to 4 plants and keep 6 ounces. They also only have an affirmative defense to criminal prosecution.
- This limit can go up to 15 plants and 16 ounces if the patient’s healthcare practitioner determines the patient condition requires more than the presumptive amount.
- With the exception of cooperative gardens established under SB 5052, only up to 15 plants may be grown at a single location even if there are two or more patients or providers living there.
- Cardholders may form a cooperative of up to 4 members and they may grow up to 60 plants at a single grow site.
- Medical marijuana should be grown in a secured area away from public view.
Having a lower cultivation limit is common in states with a thriving adult-use market like Colorado, possibly to push recreational users to buy from dispensaries where they can be taxed. In Washington, non-cardholders are totally prohibited from home growing weed.
Punishments for Violating Washington’s Home Grow Laws
Under Washington’s marijuana laws, those who cultivate cannabis but are not part of the state’s medical marijuana program are automatically charged with a Class C felony. This is punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000. First offenders get an additional mandatory fine of $1,000 and $2,000 to second offenders.
Meanwhile, qualifying patients and designated providers who exceed cultivation limits will have their excess plants and other marijuana seized by law enforcement. They may then establish an affirmative defense to charges that their medical use exceeds the cultivation limit.
History of marijuana in Washington
Like all other states, Washington banned cannabis in the 1920s and punished possession with up to 10 years imprisonment. But it seems that weed found a safe haven in the Evergreen State since it rarely enforced the harsh marijuana laws even during the prohibition period.
Washington only relaxed its cannabis laws further as early as the 1970s when pot use grew in popularity. Even though weed was classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal and state’s Controlled Substances Act, it was no longer considered as a narcotic or opiate and possession of 40 grams or less was reduced to a misdemeanor.
It was around 1979 that the medical necessity defense for marijuana possession received attention due to the State v. Diana case. A few more incidents such as Seely v. State eventually led to the filing of two ballot initiatives that sought to decriminalize medical marijuana but only one made it through. Nevertheless, Initiative 692 successfully allowed physicians to recommend marijuana to patients with debilitating or terminal conditions. As a result, dispensaries started popping up in cities like Seattle and Spokane, even though the law did not explicitly permit them.
Even though federal prohibition forced cannabis shops to close down, the support of Washingtonians for weed only intensified. In 2003, cities like Seattle began passing initiatives making possession the lowest priority for law enforcement. Finally, in 2012, an initiative that sought to legalize adult cannabis use was approved with little opposition. However, Initiative 502 did not allow cultivation, sale, or even gifting.
Growing Medical Marijuana in Washington
Compared to other states, getting a medical marijuana card in Washington is relatively simpler. All you need to do is get your healthcare practitioner to complete a Medical Marijuana Authorization Form. Take this to a medically-endorsed store along with a state-issued ID so a medical marijuana consultant can enroll you into the database. While enrollment into the database is voluntary, cardholders enjoy a number of other advantages including the following:
- A higher cultivation limit of 6 to 15 plants.
- A higher purchase and possession limit of up to three times the current limit at any medically-endorsed retail store.
- Arrest protection (if the grower is compliant chapter 69.51A RCW)
- Exemption from sales tax when purchasing at a medically-endorsed retail store.
Minor patients are required to be entered into the medical marijuana database and they also need to list a designated provider who is aged 21 and older and their parent or legal guardian. Providers may only have one patient at a time.
A medical marijuana card expires on the same date as the medical marijuana authorization. Authorizations are good for 1 year after issuance but only 6 months for minor patients. Applicants may pay from $1 to $10, depending on the cannabis store they go to.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Washington
How does Washington’s marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about growing marijuana in Washington
No, while it is legal to possess cannabis in Washington, home cultivation for recreational purposes is still illegal.
None. Home growing of recreational cannabis is currently prohibited in Washington.
Yes, it is legal to grow cannabis for medical purposes at home in Washington.
Recognition cardholders are allowed to cultivate 6 plants and possess up to 8 ounces of usable marijuana from their plants. Those who choose not to be entered into the database can only grow up to 4 plants and keep 6 ounces. Those who are able to get a recommendation from their healthcare practitioner can grow up to 15 plants. However, only up to 15 plants may be grown at a single location, with the exception of cooperative gardens.
On your property, in a locked space where your plants can be kept away from public view.
Residents need to be at least 21 years old to be able to grow for recreational use and patients at least 18 for medical use in Washington.
It might be unlikely that Washington will ever allow home cultivation of adult-use marijuana. The state’s cannabis industry is already thriving and the right to grow will probably be reserved only for licensed producers since recreational weed is already readily available at dispensaries. For now, medical marijuana growers just need to keep the following rules in mind:
- If you want to grow more than 4 plants, make sure that you have been entered in the medical marijuana database.
- If you want to grow up to 15 plants, make sure to get a recommendation from your healthcare professional and join a growing cooperative.