How to open a dispensary in Washington


Are you wondering how to open a dispensary in Washington? This page will keep you updated on the latest news and information about opening a cannabis business in Washington. This includes helpful insights into what is to come next for the state.

Using cannabis in Washington is legal for medical and recreational purposes for anybody over the age of 21. On December 6th, 2012, Washington State joined Colorado as the first two states in the US to legalize recreational marijuana usage and the first state to approve the selling of marijuana for recreational use. The medical use of marijuana was legalized in the state by the legislature in 1998.

On November 12th, 2022, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) gave its approval to the social equity licensing rules for cannabis licensees. The rules include qualifying criteria as well as application scoring criteria, both of which try to identify those who are disproportionately affected and make sure that they have the best opportunity of having their request approved. 

On January 18th, 2023, the WSLCB announced the application period for a Washington Social Equity In Cannabis Retail License will commence on March 1st, 2023 and conclude on March 30th, 2023 at 5 p.m. The WSLCB will reissue 44 retail licenses to those who score best. 

How big is the opportunity?

According to projections made in the MJBizFactbook, sales of cannabis for adult use via retail outlets are expected to grow by about 50% to a range of $2.3 billion and $2.5 billion by the year 2025.

Local Cannabis Restrictions and Laws

The location of a prospective cannabis company in Washington is one of the most important aspects to consider. Before taking any steps toward opening a marijuana dispensary in your neighborhood, you should confirm with the local authorities that it is not against the law to do so.

Since the passage of Initiative 502, the zoning policies enacted by cities and counties have varied. Some governments have adopted absolute restrictions, while others have permitted cannabis companies in certain zones.

Check out this statewide map with ordinance links to discover the jurisdictions that are zoning for cannabis companies and the jurisdictions that have banned them.

Medical Marijuana Legalization

Initiative 692, also known as the Medical Use of Marijuana Act of 1998, was the ballot measure that ultimately led to the approval of marijuana for medical use in the state of Washington. Under the initiative, patients who suffered from certain severe ailments, terminal illnesses, or uncontrollable pain were eligible to consume medicinal marijuana. I-692 also gave eligible patients and their caregivers the legal right to own and use medical marijuana.

The program for medicinal marijuana is administered by the Department of Health. Only cannabis patients who are in possession of medical marijuana identification cards are exempt from sales and use taxes and are permitted to buy larger amounts than recreational consumers.

Recreational Use Legalization

On the statewide ballot in 2012, voters in Washington state approved Initiative 502, also known as the Washington Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Initiative, with a majority vote of 55 percent. Initiative 502 made marijuana use and possession legal for adults over the age of 21 and established a regulatory framework for the state’s cannabis industry.

The initiative legalizes the production, processing, and retail sale of cannabis for recreational use by companies that possess the required cannabis license(s). Cannabis licenses are approved, governed by, and upheld by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Washington Cannabis Business Opportunities

You will be required to obtain a cannabis license if your prospective cannabis business will be engaged in the cultivation, processing, or sale of cannabis in any capacity.

Cannabis License Types and Fees

Cannabis Producer License

  • A producer licensee is allowed to grow, harvest, and package cannabis into lots, which can then be sold wholesale to cannabis processor licensees and other cannabis producer licensees.
  • License fee: $1,381
  • Applications for cannabis producer licenses in Washington are not being accepted at this time.


Cannabis Processor License

  • A processor licensee is allowed to process, package, and label usable cannabis, cannabis concentrates, and goods made with cannabis in order to sell them wholesale to cannabis retailers and other processors.
  • License fee: $1,381
  • Applications for cannabis processor licenses in Washington are not being accepted at this time.


Cannabis Retailer License

  • A retailer license provides the licensee with the authority to sell only usable cannabis, cannabis concentrates, cannabis-infused items, cannabis accessories, and lockable boxes to store cannabis at retail to customers who are at least 21 years old.
  • License fee: $1,381
  • Applications for cannabis retailer licenses in Washington will start on Mar. 1, 2023.


Cannabis Transportation License

  • A transportation licensee is allowed to transport or deliver cannabis, cannabis concentrates, and items made with cannabis from one licensed cannabis business in Washington State to another licensed cannabis business in the state.
  • License fee: $1,300; application fee: $250


Cannabis Research License

  • The holder of a research license is granted permission to cultivate, process, and possess cannabis for the purposes of limited research. 
  • License fee: $1,300; application fee: $250

Cannabis Dispensary License Application

On March 1st, 2023, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board will start accepting applications for the Social Equity Program. Over forty licenses that have either been canceled, revoked, never granted, or forfeited will be made accessible in various jurisdictions around the state. 

The WSLCB will make the application period available for a period of thirty days. During this time period, you are required to submit an application that has been fully completed. Applicants are strongly advised to submit their applications as early as possible within the window of opportunity.

Identifying Disproportionately Impacted Areas is one of the prerequisites for opening the social equity application window. This is done so that applicants may be evaluated on their suitability for the program. These have been uploaded here, where prospective candidates may also verify their address history on the DIA map.

Social Equity Dispensary License Application Requirements

Developing, improving, and supporting policies that allocate and prioritize resources to persons and groups that have been historically oppressed and are still being marginalized in today’s society is what is meant by “social equity.”

In order for an application to be taken into consideration for the social equity program, they are required to satisfy the following requirements:

  • At least a 51 percent majority in the applicant must be held by a person or persons who are currently residing in Washington state or who have done so within the previous six months prior to the date of application and who meet at least two of the following requirements:
    • resided in a Washington state disproportionately affected area (DIA) for at least five years between 1980 and 2010. This map will be used to reach a conclusion as to whether or not the applicant was a resident of a DIA region.
    • applicant or a member of their immediate family has been arrested for or convicted of a cannabis-related crime; OR
    • The income level of the household was lower than the state of Washington’s median household income of $82,400.


A developed rubric will be used to evaluate applications for social equity.

Final Thoughts 

As Washington State expands its cannabis program, particularly the recreational program, we will let you know all the relevant news and legislation about opening a dispensary in Washington. By joining our Washington Cannabis Mailing List (below), you will be kept up to date on all the relevant news as well as hard-to-find news and expert comments about Washington legalization. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • What are the most recent developments regarding cannabis in Washington?
  • What special programs will be available?
  • And more…


Are you interested in getting into the cannabis industry? Cannaspire can help guide you through the process. From obtaining a license to running a successful dispensary, we have the knowledge and experience to help you navigate the industry. Don’t do it alone, let us help you succeed in the rapidly growing cannabis industry. Schedule a consultation call now.


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