As an early proponent of both medicinal and adult-use cannabis, expectations would be that Washington state is friendly to CBD sales. Observers of cannabinoid law in WA over the last decade or so can easily confirm, though, that things aren’t always as they seem with cannabis in this Pacific Northwest state.
While it may come as a surprise to many of those familiar with Washington state, CBD products are now almost entirely illegal for general sale in Washington, stymying the business efforts of entrepreneurs statewide. Now is, perhaps, the worst time in 21st-century history to market CBD products within Washington state’s borders, a claim we’ll support with evidence over the course of this guide.
Washington cannabinoid law overview
– The Evergreen State has declared that all products with any detectable THC are cannabis¹ and must be sold only through the state’s taxed and tightly controlled network of adult-use cannabis dispensaries
– Washington infamously eliminated its thriving medical cannabis industry the moment tax revenue began flowing in from recreational dispensaries in 2015²
– This recent move to eliminate untaxed CBD sales may not be seen as a surprise, therefore, but rather as an inevitability
– If shoppers in Washington state wish to buy THC-containing CBD products legally, they must now purchase them in recreational cannabis dispensaries
– This greatly reduces the convenience of purchasing cannabinoid products since all cannabis sales must be made in-person in WA — no deliveries³
– It is unclear whether this measure will truly make cannabinoid products safer for Washington residents or merely increase tax revenue for the state government
– What is abundantly clear, though, is that selling products containing any THC at all in Washington state directly to consumers is now a criminal offense
Can I sell CBD in Washington?
No, it is now illegal to sell CBD products in Washington without first receiving approval from the Washington state government, which will then only allow you to sell your products through state-taxed recreational dispensaries. Washington no longer has any patient cooperatives, so it is not possible to sell CBD through this type of storefront either.
All food co-ops, gas stations, and other businesses aside from state-approved adult-use dispensaries will need to remove cannabinoid products from their shelves if they contain any detectable THC at all. Otherwise, stiff penalties will be enforced, potentially leading to the closure of the offending business.
What is WA bill SB 5367?
SB 5367⁴ is the Washington state bill that amended the state’s definition of cannabis under Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 69.50.101 to include “any product intended to be consumed or absorbed inside the body by any means including inhalation, ingestion, or insertion, with any detectable amount of THC.” This is the piece of legislation that makes essentially all CBD products illegal in the state, putting near-complete control of CBD commerce in Washington in the hands of state regulators in Olympia.
Is it legal to grow hemp in Washington?
Yes, it is legal to grow hemp in Washington state. Until 2020, the state operated a research program for hemp cultivation, which was replaced with a comprehensive hemp cultivation program in 2020. Around 210 acres⁵ of hemp were cultivated in WA in 2022.
Do you need a license to grow hemp in Washington?
Yes, licensing is required if you wish to grow hemp in Washington state. Hemp growers and processors apply for the same licensing through the WSDA Hemp Program Portal⁶, and a $1,200 yearly fee is applied for licensed hemp businesses.
Washington hemp license process
The process of acquiring a hemp license in Washington is relatively straightforward. Simply navigate to the Hemp Program page provided by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), and select the “Register and Apply” button if you intend to cultivate hemp.
Download and fill out the Hemp Processor Registration Application (PDF) if you intend to process rather than cultivate hemp in WA. Processor and grower applications are both accompanied by $1,200 fees, payable to the WSDA.
Does Washington have a good climate for hemp cultivation?
The climate in Washington state is reasonably good for hemp cultivation overall with the eastern half of the state being more amenable to agriculture of all kinds. Western Washington receives abundant rainfall but hardly any sunshine during its growing season, leading to issues like mold and rot in crops like cannabis that are harvested in the autumn. All areas of Washington have long winters due to the state’s latitude, restricting hemp cultivation to a single growing season.
How to start a hemp business in Washington
Starting or operating a hemp business in Washington is a remarkably difficult proposition at the moment. While the state will continue issuing hemp cultivation licenses in 2024, it is unclear where Washington’s hemp producers will unload their harvests since any hemp products containing any THC at all are now considered cannabis in Washington.
As for those intending to import CBD products produced elsewhere, your options are now extremely limited. Ingestible CBD products containing no THC whatsoever are theoretically still viable for general sale in Washington, so non-THC cannabinoid products containing isolate or broad-spectrum extracts should be admissible. Cannabinoid topicals can still contain up to 0.3% THC as well, just no ingestible products.
Even sellers of THC-free CBD products, however, must contend with the constant burden of state oversight, which could lead to the shutdown of infringing businesses. The presence of a few stray THC molecules was never previously much concern for either consumers or sellers of CBD products in Washington. Now, though, ingestible hemp products are illegal in Washington if they contain any THC, a remarkable reversal for one of the nation’s first adopters of pro-cannabinoid policies.
Benefits of private labeling
Established bulk cannabinoid producers have been grappling with the complexities of state and federal hemp law for nearly a decade. While hemp laws like Washington’s can seem almost incomprehensibly abstruse at first, larger hemp producers have entire legal departments dedicated to staying in compliance with laws and regulations.
If any producer can succeed in today’s severely tightened Washington state hemp cannabinoid economy, it will be an industry leader like GVB Biopharma. Backed with considerable financial capability and acting from years of experience, major hemp white-labelers can easily ensure that zero THC remains in hemp products, something that cannot be claimed by small-time producers.
The bottom line: Is starting a hemp business in Washington a good idea?
The prospects of starting a hemp cannabinoid business in the state of Washington could accurately be described as dismal at the moment. Hemp growers in the state are at a loss as to what to do with their THC-containing harvests, and local businesses more than likely rue the name of CBD as they face thousands of dollars in inventory losses due to new Washington state zero-THC guidelines.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and professionally made products containing absolutely no THC will be the focus of attention in the future of the Washington hemp industry. At any time, state regulators will be able to pull products off shelves if they are suspected of containing THC. If laboratory tests come back negative, there is nothing to fear — a tenuous but perhaps tenable situation for entrepreneurs intrepid enough to face down the odds.
It’s unavoidably ironic that CBD policies in Washington are now nearly as restrictive as those in neighboring Idaho, which has stayed stalwartly anti-hemp even as the rest of the nation moved gradually forward. It remains to be seen how the hemp situation in Washington will pan out in the long term: Operators in the state should maintain a stance of cautious optimism as they await a return to policies more in line with the needs of the state’s constituency.
Washington Hemp Business FAQ
Continue getting up to date with the hemp cannabinoid situation in Washington in the following FAQ section:
Is CBD legal in Washington state?
Yes, CBD is still legal in Washington state, but the state legislature severely curtailed CBD commerce in 2023. Now, most CBD products must be sold through the state’s recreational cannabis dispensaries, generating tax revenue for the state while making it harder for residents to buy CBD. The only types of ingestible CBD products that can still be sold outside of dispensaries in Washington are those that contain zero detectable THC — not a single molecule.
Can you buy CBD at gas stations in WA?
Yes, CBD will most likely remain available at many gas stations in Washington state, but all ingestible products containing any detectable THC will need to be pulled off the shelves. Many gas station owners may turn away from CBD due to concerns over testing by state regulators. In any case, only zero-THC products will remain available on the shelves of general businesses in Washington state — all THC-containing ingestible products must now be sold through adult-use dispensaries.
Can you buy CBD at Washington dispensaries?
Yes, it is possible to buy CBD products at Washington state dispensaries, but the process of doing so is cumbersome, and your selection is highly limited. Only products approved and tested by state regulators may be sold in Washington adult-use dispensaries, a process that many major national brands will be unwilling to go through just to reach Washington state’s 7 million residents⁷.
Can you buy CBD at 18 in Washington?
No, you must be at least 21 years old to buy CBD products containing any detectable THC due to 2023 Washington state legislation. Now, ingestible CBD products with THC (even less than 0.3%) must be sold in WA adult-use dispensaries, which deny entry to anyone under 21 years of age.
1. Scrantom, J. (2023). Washington upends its CBD industry. Harris Sliwoski LLP (Formerly Harris Bricken). https://harrisbricken.com/cannalawblog/washington-upends-its-cbd-industry/
2. “A failure”: How Washington’s cannabis program shut out Black business owners. (n.d.). KING5. https://www.king5.com/article/news/community/facing-race/washington-cannabis-program-shut-out-black-business-owners/281-319c9559-1733-4556-b702-87f2a48c34d8
3. Weed delivery in Washington | WashingtonStateCannabis.org. (n.d.). Washington Cannabis Information Portal. https://washingtonstatecannabis.org/delivery#:~:text=The%20state%20does%20not%20authorize,of%20the%20service%20in%20Washington.
4. Washington State Legislature. (n.d.). https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5367&Year=2023&Initiative=false
5. PRESS RELEASE NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL STATISTICS SERVICE. (n.d.-b). USDA. https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Idaho/Publications/Crops_Press_Releases/2023/HEMP.pdf
6. WSDA Hemp Program. (n.d.). https://agr.wa.gov/departments/agricultural-products/hemp#current%20hemp%20program%20activities
7. United States Census Bureau QuickFacts. (n.d.). U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Washington. Census Bureau QuickFacts. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/WA/PST045222