Menu Close Menu

Recreational Marijuana Use vs. Medical Marijuana Use

As the marijuana-reform movement gains national momentum, everybody has pot on their minds- even those who do not use it.  What is legal? And in what states? What about federal preemption? What is the status of the law given all these changes? It is unsurprising that there is much confusion as to what is allowed, and what isn't.

To start off, marijuana is still illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”).  However, the Department of Justice has agreed not to interfere with state marijuana laws as long as these laws do not conflict with their 8 federal enforcement priorities.   As of this past election in November, 23 states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana in certain amounts.  Specifically, Oregon, D.C., Florida, and Alaska were the most recent states to be added to the map in November 2014.  Washington State specifically, is one of four states in the country that allows for the recreational use of marijuana (along with Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska).

Washington's Marijuana Law(s)

The Washington Uniform Controlled Substances Act (Chapter 69.50 RCW) governs the use of marijuana in Washington.  Under Chapter 69.50.204 RCW, it is still a Schedule I drug.  Possession of 40 grams or less is a misdemeanor under Chapter 69.50.4014 RCW, and punishable by one to ninety days in jail, and a minimum fine of $250 to $1000 (Chapter 69.50.425 RCW).  Furthermore, a conviction may lead to a one year driver's license suspension for those under 21 (Chapter 69.50.420 RWC)- something a lawyer can petition the Court to reinstate, after 90 days.

Conversely, possession of over 40 grams of marijuana is a Class C felony that is punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.  Likewise, a possession of such a large amount typically leads to the police or prosecutors adding on a charge of intent to sell- a much more serious charge that you will need a lawyer to fight.  The penalties for the illegal sale or distribution of marijuana is also punishable by a maximum 5 years in jail a $10,000 fine.  For repeat offenders, the consequences will be even steeper.

Recreational Use

In November 2012, the voters of Washington voted in favor of Proposition I-502 (“I-502”), which took effect in December 2012.  In a nutshell, Proposition I-502 legalized one ounce of marijuana for personal use for adults over the age of 21.  Alternatively, it also allows for the use and possession of 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product sold in solid form (ie. baked good), or 72-ounces of marijuana-infused product sold in liquid form.  It does not allow one to grow their own marijuana, or to smoke the plant in public.  In the criminal law context, this means that you may not be arrested, cited, or convicted of using or possessing marijuana, as long as you follow I-502's requirements of age, place of consumption, and amount possessed.

Recreational sales of marijuana started this past July, with Proposition I-502 allowing for retail stores to sell marijuana grown by specially licensed Washington farmers.  The retail stores must also have a special license from the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and fulfill certain requirements.

Medical Use

It should however be noted, that Proposition I-505 did not change the Washington State Medical Marijuana Act (Chapter 69.51A RCW).  The state Medical Marijuana Act still does not allow for the recreational use of marijuana, but instead provides for a legal defense for those charged with possession of marijuana, if it is legally prescribed by a doctor to treat a medical condition.  This means this provision is only available to certain “qualifying patients and their providers,” the conditions of which are listed out in the Act.  Those qualifying for medical marijuana usage must always carry valid identification (ie. a driver's license) and documentation (ie. medical authorization from a physician) whenever they plan on carrying or using the substance.  See also WA Department of Health.

Legalization vs. Decriminalization

Lastly, it is important not to confuse the concepts of legalization and decriminalization.  Legalization refers to making certain acts legal, while decriminalization means that certain acts are still criminal, but no longer subject to prosecution.  States that have legalized marijuana have explicitly allowed for the possession of the plant, while other states that have decriminalized the possession of marijuana treats the offense as a minor violation that results in an issued ticket instead of criminal conviction.  In the instance of Washington, I-502 both legalized recreational and medicinal usage of certain amounts of marijuana.

Other Considerations:

Employers are still allowed to prohibit the use of drugs and reserve the right to drug test their employees.  While you may not be violating Washington law, there are still other considerations such as your employer's drug policy.  Additionally, transportation of marijuana to another state remains illegal, along with selling, growing, or driving under the influence of marijuana (marijuana DUI).  Finally, college students who are facing marijuana possession charges may have their financial aid impacted. 

Aggressive Representation for Marijuana Charges 

Seattle criminal defense lawyer Steve Karimi is well versed in the laws governing marijuana possession and usage.  As a former prosecutor, he has the experience to be able to provide aggressive legal defenses for persons charged with marijuana possession, marijuana DUI, and marijuana delivery charges.  Drug charges, including marijuana charges, are nothing to joke about.  They can lead to serious life consequences such as a criminal record, tarnished reputation, decreased employment opportunities, and academic opportunities.  Mr. Kamini zealously represent juveniles, students, and adults in all aspects of VUCSA and marijuana-related charges.  In many cases, he is able to get VUSCA Marijuana cases dismissed in the Snohomish County Courts, as well as getting charges off your records.

If you have been charged with a marijuana-related crime, contact our VUCSA defense attorney today or call 206-621-8777 to schedule a free initial consultation. We also have 24-hour call service available at 206-660-6200.  Do not fight the legal system alone.  Mr. Karimi will make sure your rights are defended.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.