What Is a Marijuana Co-Op, and Is There One Near You?

The term co-op means a co-operative, and it relates to autonomous associations of individuals who unite voluntarily to meet common cultural, social, and economic needs. A co-op is a jointly owned and democratic institution designed to meet the needs of the many rather than the few.

In cannabis parlance, a co-op describes a group of medical or recreational marijuana users who join together in a single place to ensure legal access to high-quality weed. These groups are also known as ‘marijuana collectives.’ Typically, a co-op is comprised of medical marijuana users and their caregivers, but with more states legalizing weed for recreational use, there are now more cooperatives than ever before.

Within the co-op, users can get marijuana flower, edibles, concentrates, and other associated paraphernalia. It is normal for co-ops to encourage members to work together to grow plants within a state’s legal limits. By combining labor, expertise, and expense, a collective can achieve far more than the sum total of the individuals.

Of course, you can’t just start a co-op overnight. You need to file papers within your state to begin the process of cultivating cannabis. As laws continue to evolve in different states, it is wise to check out your home state’s rules on co-op formation. Typically, a collective member is not allowed to grow or sell weed to non-members. You may also need to pay monthly or annual dues.

An increasingly common phenomenon involves running a licensed marijuana dispensary as a co-op. These stores will not sell to non-members, but if you are part of the collective, you can buy weed at a much lower price than you would in a ‘traditional’ dispensary.

Washington State Marijuana Co-Op Regulations

marijuana co op

We decided to briefly look at the rules and regulations surrounding marijuana co-ops in a state chosen at random. We settled on Washington state, where recreational cannabis is legal. However, it is only legal to set up a co-op for medical marijuana, and the collective can only have a maximum of four members. These members can be MMJ cardholders or their designated provider, and the co-op can only grow weed for the patient’s personal use.

All members must be in the state’s medical marijuana authorization database and have an MMJ card. In total, the amount of weed plants authorized for members is set at a maximum limit of 60. There is a clear advantage here because MMJ cardholders in Washington are only allowed to grow a maximum of six plants when they have registered.

Co-ops in Washington must register with the State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB). In addition to the above restrictions, co-op members may only:

  • Be involved if aged 21+.
  • Belong to one co-op.
  • Grow plants in the co-op and nowhere else.
  • Use the marijuana and its products. Co-op members are not allowed to give away or sell any of the weed it grows to non-members.

A co-op must be located at a member’s home, is limited to a single co-op per tax parcel, and the weed needs to be surrounded by an eight-foot fence if outdoors, where it can’t be easily smelled or seen by a member of the public. Finally, co-ops in Washington state cannot be located:

  • Within a mile of a cannabis retailer.
  • Within the smaller of the area restricted by ordinances, or where forbidden by county, town, or city zoning laws, or within 1,000 feet of recreation or daycare centers, playgrounds, or any other facility restricted to individuals aged 21+.

Colorado & California Cracking Down on Co-Ops

Not every state welcome collectives. In Colorado, marijuana is legal recreationally, but the state decided to crack down on co-operatives. Up until 2017, it was legal for medical marijuana patients to grow up to 99 plants in their home! The law at the time also enabled recreational users to group their maximum limit of six plants into large co-ops. As a result, there were entire greenhouses of weed that were not tracked or taxed.

All of this changed in April 2017 when the Senate approved a bill which made it a crime for Colorado residents to grow recreational marijuana for other people. The bill passed 35-0, and it limited the number of weed plants grown in a residence to 12 plants. To be fair, it was a necessary piece of legislation to tackle a major problem in Colorado.

There were no state estimates on how many recreational co-ops there were in Colorado which led to a thriving black market. More pertinently perhaps, it was possible to avoid weed taxes that reached 30% at the time. HB 1220 was signed into law in June 2017.

The new law is a real shame for medical marijuana patients who need to use a lot of the herb to help treat their condition. Sadly, the sheer scale of the unregulated co-op grows meant that the state government had no choice but to act. In 2017, news of a raid which found 230 plants in a residence in Pueblo barely registered. This is mainly due to the raid on a few dozen homes in Southern Colorado which yielded over 22,000 pounds of plant and product set to be shipped outside the state!

Over in the Golden State, it is a similar situation. In January 2018, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) announced that as of January 9, 2019, the section of the Health and Safety Code pertaining to co-ops would no longer be in effect. The BBC notice ended collective models of marijuana growing, manufacturing, and distribution in the state of California.

Being forced to join a regulated system is unquestionably bad news for a large number of operators within the state. At the time of writing, all marijuana businesses operating under the collective model must apply for, and receive, a state license under MAUCRSA. Those who operate commercially without a license are open to prosecution.

Final Thoughts on Marijuana Co-Ops

Depending on where you live, if you are part of a co-op, you could be breaking the law. For years, marijuana collectives have been convenient outlets for medical marijuana patients to grow more marijuana plants, and gain greater access to the cannabis they need to treat their medical conditions. A co-op is also a fantastic way to meet new and like-minded, people.

Alas, these unregulated co-ops have caused some serious legal and legislative headaches. In Colorado, for example, it was possible to grow hundreds of pounds of weed without the knowledge of the state which meant avoiding taxes, and possibly illegally selling the surplus. If you are a member or are seeking to become a member, of a co-op, we urge you to check your state’s laws to ensure you are not breaking any laws.