Writing the measure that ended marijuana prohibition in Washington state would’ve been enough to enshrine Alison Holcomb among Capitol Hill’s most celebrated residents. Now that voter-approved I-502 is finally rolling out, Holcomb is carefully considering her next move, which could include deepening her position as a neighborhood leader by becoming Capitol Hill’s first representative on the Seattle City Council.
In her current day job as criminal justice director for the ACLU of Washington, Holcomb has largely focused on protecting individuals from government overreach. In recent years she said she’s been drawn towards thinking about how the government can better serve individuals. “A little bit more about creating new policies instead of having to defend against bad ones,” she told CHS.
Last month Holcomb announced in an interview that she was strongly considering running for the newly created District 3 council seat, where she would become Capitol Hill and the Central District’s first ever dedicated council member. To get there, Holcomb will almost certainly have to challenge city council member and Capitol Hill resident Kshama Sawant.
“I’m fairly frustrated (by) the way that she approaches the work,” Holcomb told CHS. “I think it’s very important that she distinguish between being an activisit and a legislator.”
Holcomb’s early city council announcement, which she called a “bit of a rookie blunder,” was met with some surprise given her strong progressive credentials and Sawant’s popularity on Capitol Hill and in Central Seattle.
Holcolmb said it was her deep connection to Capitol Hill and some political calculus that led her to hone in on the District 3 seat over challenging one of the two presumed incumbents for the at-large positions. She said she wouldn’t run against Tim Burgess as they’ve worked together extensively on criminal justice issues and she hasn’t heard a convincing argument to challenge Sally Clark.
Capitol Hill food and drink owners that have sparred with Sawant over the $15 an hour minimum wage issue would likely be a big source of support for Holcomb’s campaign. Holcomb’s husband, Gregg Holcomb, is a longtime Capitol Hill bartender who opened Witness on north Broadway last year.
Holcomb said she is still mulling the run for council and said she wouldn’t make a decision until after November’s general election.
Holcomb’s interest in elected office didn’t come out of the blue. Last year she sought the appointment to Sen. Jaime Pedersen’s seat in the House after he took over for Mayor Ed Murray in the Senate. Brady Walkinshaw, a Capitol Hill resident and program officer at the Gates Foundation, ultimately took the role.
Holcomb tells CHS she always assumed she would end up at the state level. Upon reflecting on her work to legalize marijuana, Holcomb said she realized that much of the movement at the state level began with the cities, including SPD’s de-prioritization of marijuana enforcement.
“I had just come to understand how much I really love problem solving and I-502 was the most dramatic example,” she said. “It’s fascinating to me, it’s a multi-demnsional chess game and I think it’s the next work I want to do”
Living on Capitol Hill since 2000, Holcomb has established deep roots in the neighborhood. She was married at All Pilgrims Church, her 6-year-old son attends Lowell Elementary School, and her husband has made a career behind Capitol Hill bars. Those connections are part of the reason why Holcomb wants to represent the area on the council.
“I’m really committed to this neighborhood because it’s where we’ve had some of the most amazing experiences of our lives,” Holcomb, who owns a 700-square-foot condo in a 1910-built building, said.
It has been eight months since Washington state effectively ended marijuana prohibition with Holcomb’s I-502 measure. Holcomb said she’s mostly pleased with the rollout thus far, but is concerned about the lack of supply and prohibitive buffer regulations for retail locations.
The problems are perhaps most emblematic in Holcomb’s own neighborhood where pot-loving Capitol Hill has no retail marijuana shops and the closest permitted location is at 24th and Union.
The problem lies in the buffer rule that prevents marijuana shops from being within 1,000 feet of schools and parks — a tough feat on Capitol Hill. Holcomb said she would like to see the 1,000-foot buffer cut in half, especially for large cities.
“The 1,000-foot rule is not workable, especially in more densely populated cities,” she said. “I think it’s fair to say there would be healthy demand for marijuana in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.”
One solution could be giving local lawmakers the power to decide where shops should be located within their own city limits, something Holcomb said she supports.
Until Holcomb makes a final decision on a council run, she said she’ll continue to monitor the rollout of I-502 through her post at the ACLU. As a Capitol Hill resident, she’ll also be eagerly awaiting more development in her north Broadway neighborhood.
“We’re hoping there will continue to be a development for a range of people,” she said. “We do want the preservation of the economic diversity of the neighborhood because it gives it so much character.”