How to open a Dispensary in Washington

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Washington first legalized medical cannabis in 1998. In 2012, Washington voted to legalize adult aka recreational use, joining Colorado as the first states in the US to do so.

Washington allows recreational cannabis, so there are of course dispensaries; however, the application window is not currently open. As such, no new dispensaries can be opened inside the state. This is not a permanent thing, so it is important for aspiring entrepreneurs to be prepared for when the window does reopen. Washington has three types of licenses available to those wanting to start a business in the cannabis industry: producer, processor, and retailer. If you are starting a dispensary for example, you would apply for a retailer’s license.

Legalization in Washington

When was cannabis made legal

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On November 6, 2012, Initiative 502 established the dispensary system regulated by Washington state. Before that, licensed medical cannabis patients had to grow any weed they needed themselves.

The initiative also legalized recreational cannabis use by adults 21 and older. Washington state was one of the first states to legalize medicinal cannabis in 1998. The state blazed the same trail when it became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis, along with Colorado in 2012.

The Cannabis Market in Washington

As of this writing, there are 247 registered medicincal cannabis dispensaries in Washington state. The cap for recreational stores was increased in January 2016 to allow up to 556 dispensaries. In 2016, the market size was 1.3 billion. Washington’s cannabis program combines both the recreational and medical markets. Medical cannabis patients still require recomendation from their physicians and retailers may request a medical endorsement. Be aware that the number of these endorsements is limited.

Owner’s Requirements

Washington lets counties and cities set their own rules, meaning they can ban cannabis businesses if they deem it necessary. Always make sure that you are aware of local laws in your area, and of course make sure you are compliant with them.

Licensing Requirements

Washington state is not currently accepting applications for medical, retailers, growers, producers and processors. You can of course prepare the application in advance so you will be prepared when it does re-open.

Cannabis retailers are allowed to sell only what is classified as “usable” cannabis, cannabis,-infused products, cannabis concentrates, and cannabis, paraphernalia at retail outlets to persons who are 21 or older. As with cannabis processors, there is a $266 application fee, which is non-refundable. There is also a $1,062 annual fee for issuance and renewal of the license. You are limited to no more than three retail cannabis licenses. A licensee of multiple locations is not allowed more than thirty-three percent of the allowed licenses in any county or city.

Applicants are also required to have specific plans in place for their cannabis retail store. This can include the following business plans:

  • Business plan
  • Financial plan
  • Inventory plan
  • Suitability of proposed facility plan
  • Staffing plan
  • Security plan
  • Operations plan
  • Community engagement plan
  • Policies and procedures

The following plans aren’t explicitly required, but they are of course beneficial. These might include environmental plans, fire safety plans, product safety plans, record-keeping plans, transportation plans, and lastly marketing/advertising plans.

Financial Requirements

In addition to the application and legal fees listed above, opening a dispensary in Washington can cost anywhere from 5-100 thousand or more so it would be wise to save for the future!

In terms of business opportunities, at this time, only cannabis transportation licenses are available. The application fee for these licenses is $250. If you also want to register your business as a trade name, this will be an additional $5. An application for a cannabis business license carries a fee of $19, which is non-refundable.

What is My Expected Profit?

Cannabis, dispensaries can easily make anywhere from 50 thousand a year to tens of millions of dollars.


Starting a cannabis business can take anywhere up to a year, but in Washington State expect the process to take longer, due to lack of availability of licenses.

Consulting Companies

These consulting firms can advise you on everything that you need to know about starting a cannabis dispensary in Washington


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