The first twenty years of the millennium are up in smoke. It’s about to be 2020. And the last twenty years have had enough cannabis milestones to spin even sober heads.
Medical marijuana became legal in Washington in 1998. Despite the initial rumblings of change, twenty years ago, if you’d asked any Washingtontonian about the future of cannabis, even the most optimistic cannabis connoisseur probably wouldn’t have imagined where we are today.
So much progress has been made when it comes to legal cannabis, it’s hard to distill all the momentum down to something digestible. But here’s an attempt to find the most meaningful cannabis milestones for Washington from the last twenty years. From the astonishing to the silly.
10. Passage of I-75 2003
Before voters passed I-502, there was I-75. Passed in 2003, I-75 the initiative aimed to direct law enforcement in Seattle to make “the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the City’s lowest law enforcement priority.”
In 2005, Eli Sanders wrote a piece for The Stranger about the progress I-75 was making.
“Marijuana-related case filings by the city attorney’s office have dropped sharply since I-75 took effect, from 178 filings in 2003, the year the initiative passed, to 59 filings in 2004. That’s a 67 percent reduction in arrests, prosecutions, and jail sentences connected to marijuana use,”
I-75 was the first step in a long process of decriminalizing cannabis for adults 21 and over.
9. 60-Day Supply Defined- 2007
I-692, the bill that legalized medical cannabis in Washington, was passed in 1998. In 2007, that legislation was amended to include a clear definition of what the original bill described as a 60-day supply. The definition allowed patients to have 24 ounces of usable marijuana, and no more than 15 cannabis plants.
8. Medical Cannabis Authorization Expanded- 2010
Do you remember when medical cannabis started taking off, and it seemed like everyone started getting their cards? If you felt like that was around 2010, this is probably why. A further amendment to I-692 came in 2010, one that changed things pretty dramatically.
That change was the expansion of who could give out those soon to be ubiquitous green cards. Medical doctors and osteopathic physicians were the only medical professionals allowed to authorize cannabis use prior to the amendment.This amendment allowed physicians assistants, advanced registered nurse practitioners, and naturopathic physicians to authorize cannabis use. It’s my recollection that those naturopathic physicians, in particular, were far more liberal in approving those green cards.
7. Collective Gardens Allowed- 2011
Things started really heating up for medical cannabis post-2010, and 2011 brought even more changes. SB 5073 was passed in 2011, and later partially vetoed by stick-in-the-mud Gov. Gregoire. But the part of the bill that did pass, and continued to propel the legal cannabis movement forward, was allowing collective gardens. This allowed patients to come together and pool their cards to create larger grows. This was when those of us in the consumer market started to notice prices coming way down.
6. I-502 Passed by Voters- 2012
Perhaps one of the the biggest cannabis milestones of all for Washington was the passage of I-502 in November of 2012. Voters passed the bill by a margin of approximately 56% to 44%. Though legal cannabis wouldn’t be for sale for nearly two years, it definitely marked a line in the sand. Washington voters ended cannabis prohibition in Washington.
5. Cops Hand out Munchies at Hempfest- 2013
Of all the cannabis milestones on this list, this is the lightest. But it felt important nonetheless. Before recreational cannabis had even been sold in Seattle, and ten years since it had been made the lowest priority for SPD, officers came to Hemp Fest and handed out bags of Doritos with a little card with information on I-502 rules. Printed on the card was the URL for this page on I-502.
Some might say this was a cutesy publicity stunt from an organization that spent decades harassing cannabis users, particularly cannabis users of color. Either way, it signaled to the public definitively, that Seattle cops didn’t care about adults smoking weed.
4. First Legal Cannabis Purchase- 2014
In 2014, members of the media from all over the country had their eyes on Seattle for the first legal recreational cannabis purchase in Washington. Unbeknownst to them, cannabis-haven Bellingham was where the first legal cannabis purchase actually took place.
On the morning of July 14, 2014, Cale Holdsworth from Kansas bought two grams of OG Pearl Kush for $26.50, from cannabis retailer Top Shelf in Bellingham.
3. Seattle Moves to Vacate Misdemeanor Cannabis Charges- 2018
There was an abundance of cannabis legislation following I-502, but Seattle moving to vacate misdemeanor cannabis charges was the coolest. The war on drugs left many victims in its wake, and people of color were disproportionately affected. True reform only comes after past wrongs have been righted, and this was an attempt to do that.
In April of 2018, the city of Seattle filed a motion to vacate hundreds of cannabis charges going back decades. City Attorney Pete Holmes acknowledged the racial disparity in charges in the motion.
Holmes cited an ACLU report that found African-Americans were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for using cannabis than white people, even though they both used cannabis at the same rates. Seattle took the lead in Washington’s mission to begin healing the racial divide in cannabis justice.
2. Washington Passes Bill to Vacate Misdemeanor Cannabis Charges- 2019
Following Seattle’s decision, Governor Jay Inslee announced his plan to pardon thousands of cannabis convictions. Following the announcement, Washington passed SB 5605 to pardon past cannabis convictions in March of this year. Gov. Inslee signed the bill into law in May, and the law became effective in July.
The law could pardon nearly 200,000 folks convicted of cannabis related misdemeanors when the were over the age of 21.
1. Medical Cannabis Allowed in Schools
Washington kids with severe illnesses treated with cannabis weren’t allowed to use the medicine in school until this year. In April of 2019, Gov. Inslee signed HB 1095 into law, which allows sick kids to receive medicinal cannabis in school. The law is affectionately called Ducky’s Law after River “Ducky” Barclay, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes frequent and seizures. CBD helps ease her symptoms and allows her to focus in school, so her parents fought valiantly to allow her and kids like her to receive the life-changing medicine in school. Before kids had to go home to receive cannabis treatment. This allows very sick kids to alleviate symptoms without disrupting their education.
The past twenty years have been beyond groundbreaking for cannabis in Washington. There have been so many huge cannabis milestones, a listicle can hardly contain it. From huge firsts, to a couple moments of levity the last twenty years have brought us some truly remarkable moments in cannabis history.