Celebrating Five Years of Legal Weed in Washington State

A look back at a hazy half-decade.

Illustration by James the Stanton

Illustration by James the Stanton

Five years ago today on December 6, 2012, I-502 went into effect, legalizing recreational cannabis and forever changing the landscape of cannabis culture in our little corner of the country. It’s gone by in a blur—or a haze, maybe—with so much change that it’s difficult to keep track of it all. I decided to give it a shot.

We probably should start our trip down memory lane a month earlier, on November 6, 2012. Washington and Colorado both legalized recreational cannabis on this date, becoming the first two states to end a prohibition that had been on the books for 75 years. Washington saw an 81 percent voter turnout—the highest in the country—to pass the initiative, along with gay marriage. Perhaps we need to include cannabis and queer issues on the ballot more often. Folks partied all over the city, smoking in the streets, with one gathering getting high at the base of the Space Needle to the sounds of old school reggae tunes.

Even though our state had legalized recreational weed for ourselves, in 2013, we and Colorado were still waiting to see what the feds were going to do about it. In his first interview after I-502 passed, then-President Obama said there were “bigger fish to fry,” and by August of 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice decided not to sue Washington and Colorado. If Seattle recreational stoners needed any further confirmation, the Seattle Police Department passed out 1000 bags of Doritos at HempFest with stickers detailing the basics of I-502. Recreational weed was officially here to stay.

Our second full year of legal recreational weed was pretty mellow. Our first recreational pot shops opened, with lines stretching for blocks. The state started to track sales and reported almost $31 million in business that year. Trying to play catch-up, Oregon legalized recreational weed and shops at the Washington border saw a small decrease in sales. Washington D.C. and Alaska also legalized recreational marijuana, and Nevada and Illinois legalized medicinal use. High Times hosted its annual Cannabis Cup in Everett.

By 2015, Washington was pursuing radically different agendas for the recreational and medical markets, and then-U.S. Attorney (now Seattle Mayor) Jenny Durkan spoke on behalf of the U.S. government. She made it abundantly clear that the feds saw the state’s medical marijuana market as basically “untenable.” MMJ dispensaries had been cruising along, more or less unregulated, since 1998. The state legislature quietly passed the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which basically squashed the medical market into the recreational one, and the “wild west” era of medical cannabis in Washington state came to an end. Dispensaries and community gardens would have a year to figure it out. State sales hit $323 million.

In 2016, due to CPPA, Washington saw more than 60 medical dispensaries close their doors and patients under 21 were left without safe access. On a positive note, medicinal cannabis research began to gain some traction, both here in Washington and around the country. State sales reached $1.1 billion. Hemp Fest celebrated 25 years of pot and protest. Oh, and Seattle Weekly started to run a little cannabis column called Stash Box. State sales reached $696 million.

And this year? Well, the mood has soured slightly thanks to the grumpy attitude of the new administration in the other Washington, but so far, so good. Two of the big legalization fears—that it would promote teen usage and increase crime in neighborhoods with dispensaries, have both been proven wrong. State legislation made it legal for two adults to share a bowl, but we still can’t grow recreational plants at home. As of November 1st, state sales exceeded $1.1 billion.


More in Eat Drink Toke

A Different Kind of Dumpling

At Jiaozi!, unexpected flavors await.

I Do(obie)

How to marry the love of your life with your love of cannabis.

Legislature Lifts Outdated Restrictions on Food Trucks

How a Vashon Island food truck owner/operator helped end old brick-and-mortar limitations.

Photo by Nicole Sprinkle 
                                Persian beet salad at The Shambles.
Raising the Bar

The Shambles wants you to feel good, and eat and drink well—without acting like it matters too much.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Terpenes!

The aromatic organic hydrocarbons give cannabis strains their smells, flavors, and so much more.

The Opla Vietnam tops the menu. 
                                Photo by Nicole Sprinkle
Café Opla’s Eggcellent Vietnamese-Inspired Brunch

The tiny Alaskan Way spot serves up individual skillets of eggs with tasty bells and whistles.

Mary Jane and Aunt Flo

For people who suffer from cramps, cannabis could be a vital source of relief.

Hash Gets Hacked

A change in tracking companies has left Washington’s cannabis industry exposed.

Photo by Suzi Pratt for Salt and Straw
10 Things to Know Before You Go to Salt and Straw

The beloved Portland-based ice cream shop finally opens its Seattle outposts.

Photo by Conner Knotis 
                                Jerk Shack’s jerk chicken.
Bring on the Jerk

Finally, the Caribbean stakes a spot in Seattle thanks to Jerk Shack.

Dennis Peron. Illustration by James the Stanton
The Cannabis Community Mourns Activist Dennis Peron

The grandfather of medicinal marijuana was 72.

Touch Down in Kerala, India via Kirkland

It’s 30 minutes east of Seattle, but Kathakali boasts some of the best Indian food in the area.