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Washington Voters Say Yes to Recreational Marijuana


On November 6, Washington and Colorado became the first two states in the nation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The decisions were made by the people. 54% of voters in Colorado approved Amendment 64, and 55% of Washington voters said yes to Initiative 502.

Under Initiative 502,  state-licensed marijuana growers, processors, and stores will form the system that allows adults twenty-one and older to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana.

"Retailers may only sell marijuana produced by LCB [Liquor Control Board] licensed producers and processed by LCB licensed processors. Processors must purchase marijuana from licensed Washington producers, and retailers must purchase marijuana from Washington licensed producers and processors." 

The initiative also "establishes a per se driving under-the-influence threshold for marijuana of 5 nanograms of active THC metabolite per milliliter of blood."

But don't break out your bongs yet. While it will be legal to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in Washington State on December 6, 2012, it will take "at least a year" for the state to establish the regulations required by the initiative for state-licensed retail stores.

Cory Curtis, spokesman to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D) has said, "Our big concern is that we not  move down the road with money and time on rule-making if they are going to stop the process." "They" refers to the Justice Department, since the possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. The governor is planning to meet with the state attorney general and the Liquor Control Board before bringing the discussing to the federal level.

The Justice Department has already taken issue with several of the states that permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons, such as California.  For example, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) warned earlier this year that more than 20 Washington State medical marijuana dispensaries located near schools could be prosecuted.  How the Justice Department and DEA will respond to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington remains to be seen.

The Washington State Office of Financial Management estimates that legalized marijuana could raise $560 million a year in tax revenue, license revenue, and fees. State and local expenditures would put only a small dent in that figure.

Pursuant to Initiative 502, tax revenue generated by the sales of marijuana will go towards the following:

  • The Washington State Health Youth survey;
  • The Washington State Institute for Public Policy;
  • Web-based public educational materials about the health and safety risks of marijuana use;
  • LCB administration;
  • The Basic Health Plan;
  • The state general fund;
  • The Department of Social and Health Services Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery for specified youth substance abuse prevention programs;
  • The Department of Health for marijuana education and public health programs;
  • Community health centers
  • The University of Washington and Washington State University for research on the short and long term effects of marijuana use.
  • Building Bridges programs.

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Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.