Marijuana in Washington: The long road to legalization

Over a year later, officials are navigating thorny legal issues from taxes to licensure.

  • Starter plants called clones are organized before heading to a garden at a medical marijuana patient's home in Shoreline, Washington in 2010.

    Daniel Berman
  • Licensed and permitted recreational marijuana producers, processors and retailers gather to learn about industry compliance and proper inventory tracking using BioTrack THC’s elaborate program, March 24, 2015.

    Daniel Berman
  • Chris Padron, 22, of Seattle, smokes marijuana in a tent housing a Legalization Day celebration marking the first anniversary of marijuana legalization under Initiative 502 at Seattle Center, Dec. 6, 2013.

    Daniel Berman
  • Medical marijuana patient John Novak speaks during the Everett City Council vote to declare marijuana a "nuisance," which would endanger access for patients, ban collective gardens and disregard state law, December 19, 2012.

    Daniel Berman
  • Washington state Liquor Control Board member Chris Marr indicates that time is running out for a patient's testimony during a boisterous public comment hearing on implementing the state's recreational laws, Nov. 13, 2013 in Lacey, Washington. Patients expressed concern over medical collective storefronts closing and not being able to grow their own medicine any longer.

    Daniel Berman
  • Analytical360 CEO Brenton Dawber uses a digital microscope to photograph a marijuana sample sent for testing at their facility, February 19, 2013. Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana growers can send their flowers to Analytical360, which uses gas chromatography machines to determine the THC and other components in marijuana. Results are posted and archived online.

    Daniel Berman
  • Layla Bush, a volunteer at The Green Buddha medical marijuana collective, vaporizes cannabis in a dedicated room of the shop in Seattle, Washington, May 22, 2012. She says vaping is her preferred way to medicate because she feels it quickly and it isn't harsh on her lungs like smoking. Bush was shot and injured in 2006 and the bullet remained lodged near her spinal cord where intractable pain continues to plague her, requiring use of a crutch.

    Daniel Berman
  • Ryan and Rylie smoke marijuana from a six-foot-tall water pipe during Seattle Hempfest, August 21, 2010. The three-day annual marijuana and hemp "protestival" brings more than a quarter-million attendees to the shores of Elliott Bay and Myrtle Edwards Park each year.

    Daniel Berman
  • Tacoma Police explain to a Tacoma Hempfest attendee why they are clearing people out of the park during the permitted event, which was shut down due to a vendor selling marijuana paraphernalia at their booth, June 25, 2011.

    Daniel Berman
  • Dozens of vendors pack the floor of the Tacoma Dome for the first CannaCon, August 14, 2014. The marijuana trade show allows businesses to connect with other likeminded investors.

    Daniel Berman
  • Cannabis City Owner James Lathrop introduces the media to Deb Greene, 65, of Seattle, who waited from 3 p.m. overnight to be first in line to buy recreational pot at the store, June 8, 2014. Cannabis City was one of 24 retailers to receive licenses to open that week. At 48 hours into business, Lathrop announced that the store had sold out an initial order of 10 pounds of marijuana, and would be closed for most of July to gather additional supply.

    Daniel Berman
  • Katheryn Fleming, 22, and her boyfriend, Anthony Pennella, 23, smoke a "blunt" or marijuana cigar, Dec. 10, 2012. For a $10 fee, patrons at Frankie's Bar and Grill in Olympia, Washington can become members with access to a special upstairs section of the building where one can smoke marijuana and/or cigarettes. "It's a nice spot to socialize," Fleming says of the bar. "It's like Amsterdam, a stepping stone. It's better than sitting at home." On Dec. 6, 2012, Washington state legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use for those over 21 years of age.

    Daniel Berman
  • Wayne Kizer, 70, and his wife, Nancy, smoke marijuana in their living room in Federal Way, Washington. Wayne, a retired construction foreman, said he has smoked marijuana recreationally in his off-time for almost 40 years. "I sit here every night, right here in this chair, and smoke a little bit," Wayne said. "I smoke it for my elbow pain and because it relaxes me." He is concerned that prices for marijuana will become unaffordable, "out of the hands of normal people like us." On Dec. 6, 2012, Washington state legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use for those over 21 years of age.

    Daniel Berman
  • Medical marijuana grower Jason Bohbot smells a bud at home in Camano Island, Washington, October 6, 2014. He grows his marijuana outside as much as possible, then finishes it under L.E.D. lighting indoors as the weather changes. "It is so exciting to put my feet in the dirt and play with my plants," Bohbot says. "I've spent so much time indoors with artificial light that being able to work outside and hear the birds chirp was a real plus. I felt much more tapped into the natural environment of the plants."

    Daniel Berman
  • CannaSol founder Jeremy Moberg dumps a bundle of freshly picked outdoor-grown marijuana to process it for drying at his medical marijuana farm near Okanogan, Washington, September 18, 2013. The region experiences some of the hottest temperatures year-round that allow for outdoor cannabis growing with ease.

    Daniel Berman
  • Budtender Chris Larson, 21, helps patients choose from a variety of different marijuana strains available at The Joint Cooperative, a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Dec. 11, 2012. Open since 2010, the facility serves up to a hundred patients per day. Larson has worked at The Joint Cooperative for about one year.

    Daniel Berman
  • Across Interstate 5 in Western Washington, traffic safety task forces implemented campaign messages on electronic displays, such as this one near Port Orchard on Highway 16 in Kitsap County, July 13, 2014.

    Daniel Berman

 

The day marijuana was legalized in Washington was a jubilant one in the progressive state. But the post-legalization world, although more straightforward in some ways that the pre-legalization world, remains murky. More than a year after recreational use of pot got the official go-ahead, city and state officials in Washington are still navigating thorny legal issues from taxation to licensure. For example, many of the medical marijuana providers have been thrown into a state of limbo when licensing laws changed this spring. The medical marijuana industry at the start was largely unregulated; now, they’ll have to navigate tight licensing law and compete with the booming recreational market. One expert told Seattle-area radio station KUOW that the new law could actually result in more medical dispensaries closing down than in new ones opening up. And state and local officials have been mired in questions of how to tax the industry and where to put the stores.

Still, other states have begun to follow in Washington’s footsteps. Both Oregon and Alaska legalized pot this year and other states have expanded their medical markets. Lobbying from the marijuana industry could push more politicians towards legalization.  -Kate Schimel