Should state turn over I-502 pot zoning to the Seattle City Council?

Mount Calvary Christian Center prayed, rallied and waved signs Sunday at 23rd and Union (Image: CHS)

Mount Calvary Christian Center prayed, rallied and waved signs Sunday at 23rd and Union (Image: CHS)

Sumedha Majumdar — CHS Fall 2014 Intern contributed to this report.

As protest continues in the Central District over a retail marijuana shop opening next to a church, community members and city officials are asking for a review of how pot shops are located in Seattle. Is it already time for lawmakers to start making changes to the state’s young recreational marijuana law?

In August, CHS spoke with I-502 author Alison Holcomb about how the law was progressing. At the time, we discussed the possibility of giving local officials authority to approve the locations of I-502 stores, rather than the state liquor board. Couldn’t Seattle’s City Council approve the location of 21 retail marijuana shop locations under its own rules?

“Politically it’s a lot cleaner,” Holcomb said this summer. “That makes a lot of sense to me.”

Maybe Holcomb will get her chance in 2015, by the way.

The state’s 1,000-foot buffer rule was written into I-502 with the assumption that it would placate federal law enforcement officials. Under federal sentencing guidelines, there are specific penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of schools. Here’s what I-502 says:

The state liquor control board shall not issue a license for any premises within one thousand feet of the perimeter of the grounds of any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, or library, or any game arcade admission to which is not restricted to persons aged twenty-one years or older.

Sensible enough, but on-the-ground the rules have produced an odd permitting landscape — like no pot shops on Capitol Hill and a mid-block location for a pot shop on a residential Central District street.

Scrapping the 1,000-foot rule and allowing local officials to approve locations with local rules could help, perhaps taking into consideration “Urban Villages” and permit density to prevent Little Amsterdams from forming.

Of course, local authority could also backfire, especially in places where local officials would be more than happy to try to run shops out of town.

It’s not clear if more local authority would help or hurt Mount Calvary Pastor Reggie Witherspoon in his efforts to close down Uncle Ike’s, but he told CHS that it couldn’t hurt. “I would prefer it,” he said.

UPDATE: Witherspoon also answered critics of his decision to target a pot store and not the liquor store just down the street. “What people don’t know is that over the years I have vehemently fought against that liquor store being there,” Witherspoon told CHS. “Particularly when this area was predominantly African American. We still don’t need a liquor store in our community.”

City Council member Bruce Harrell told CHS he is beginning a review of how the shop was allowed to open so close to a church.

Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg told CHS that the state should wait at least another six months before making any further changes to the law.

So far, Eisenberg said business is booming. When CHS spoke to him outside his shop on Monday, the only day of the week the shop closes, several customers approached only to be turned away at the door. Eisenberg said he may start opening on Mondays soon.

“We don’t want kids to have an easy access to drugs,” one woman who was protesting in front of the marijuana shop Monday night told CHS. “They never told us that they were opening up a pot shop here. We were told that it was a business organization.” The woman asked that her name not be included in this report.

“Shops like these shouldn’t be so close to churches,” she said. “The city shouldn’t have let this happen.”

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39 thoughts on “Should state turn over I-502 pot zoning to the Seattle City Council?

  1. That’s fine as long as existing locations are grandfathered. Uncle Ike’s played by the rules, would be unfair to penalize them after the fact. They were “allowed” to open next to the church because it was perfectly legal.

  2. This rally just lacked any credibility. Where was this protest BEFORE Ike’s opened? The pastor was making jokes about how they’ll be out there every day except for when the Seahawks play. Hilarious watching Bruce Harrell pretend like he gives a shit. This will blow over and Ike’s will either succeed or not without any influence from the church. They should protest the parking lot in front of the boarded up post office. Crazy drug dealing going on at all hours of the day and it’s very obvious. Don’t kids have to walk by that lot on the way to church?

    • Right! Why’s the church not protesting due to the liquor store across from Ike’s? Alcohol is also a drug. Seems like another publicity stunt by the Central district community.

    • Bingo! I heard on the radio station (1420 AM) morning show called “Morning Potpourri”, whereas very staunch protesters are just railing against this State supported and legal business; one gentleman on the show–on air, asking those in support of their cause and beliefs, to make a monetary donation to the church so as to start and have a ‘legal fund’ to fight to get Uncle Ike’s to vacate its’ place of business!! So yes, there is some financial benefit towards the [Church] in this matter. I wonder if there is anyone that attends that church, pays their dutiful ‘tides’ to the church, and are recreational marijuana -users?? If found out, would they be asked to leave the [Church]?? on the same grounds that they’re placing on Uncle Ike’s. What if some church members (@ that church) want to have a same-sex marriage and were denied by the church and then those same people turned around and decided to protest and picket the church every Sunday until they got vindication?? Being on the other side of the argument is probably not a place they’d like to find themselves I imagine. One last thing…the Black callers to that show are whirling around the ‘race card’ and thinly veiled racism like it’s alright and the justification of doing so is because of the stance they’re taking and ever-tired: “Woe is me” song we Black folks just loves to sing. I’m just saying…

    • They’re just pissed about not being able to park in his lot on Sundays. Churches need to mind their own business or pay taxes like the rest of us.

    • DAMN RIGHT! I’m so fucking sick of the hypocritical bullshit these churches spew.

      Every damn one of them should be paying taxes like the rest of us.

    • Yeah, I wish they were protesting across the street at the drive-up “coffee” kiosk next to the Post Office where they sell drugs. SPD knows full well that they are dealing out of there but the property owner, Tom Bangasser, who is asking for the upzone, explicitly told SPD they had no right to come on his property (unless responding to a 911 call). SPD cannot come onto the shopping plaza property and tell people not to smoke pot, cannot come onto the plaza property and do undercover buys and try to shut the dealing down. I have witness numerous time, in the middle of the day, up to eight guys (including the guy who works in the kiosk) hanging out next to the “coffee shop” all smoking their own joints… then offering to sell me some. That’s where you kids are going to get it.

  3. Comparing alcohol to marijuana is not an accurate comparison. Alcohol is a legal substance. Marijuana was, until recently, illegal to possess in Seattle and is still an illegal substance (Schedule 1) under the Controlled Substances Act. So asking why the church isn’t protesting the liquor store is a silly question: liquor has been legal for a long time. People don’t tend to go to jail for alcohol possession.

    Marijuana was formerly considered illegal under Washington state law. Now it is legal. The members of the protest still seem to view it as harmful substance in their community. So they are protesting. It makes perfect sense to me. Keep in mind that, while white and black people tend to use marijuana at the same right, black people, and particularly black youth, are far more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for marijuana related charges. Being in the criminal justice system leads to recidivism. Is it any wonder that the church sees marijuana as harmful to the community?

    Some people have asked the question: “why wasn’t/isn’t the church protesting the illegal drug trade happening in the same area?” The idea of protesting illegal activity, on a corner with a long history of violence, doesn’t really make sense to me. What effect would a protest have on people that are already disobeying the law? Why would someone who has decided to sell drugs for profit be affected by a group of church members blocking the street? Now that marijuana is legal, and an owner has opened up a legal shop, the church members have tactically decided that protest is a viable means to achieve a goal: not having the marijuana trade in the neighborhood. Again, this makes perfect sense to me.

    My personal opinion:

    I think it’s a tragedy of epic proportions that we, as a county, a state, and nation, have spent decades locking up black and brown children for selling and possessing marijuana.

    Now, rich people, and mostly rich white men, will generate huge profits from a newly legitimized business that was formerly used as a reason to criminalize an entire generation of black and brown youth.

    “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

    • “So asking why the church isn’t protesting the liquor store is a silly question: liquor has been legal for a long time. People don’t tend to go to jail for alcohol possession.” – I stopped reading after this sentence. All credibility is lost when you deem alcohol the lesser of two evils based on historical legality.

      Now if we’re talking about legal substances, tell me more about all the pharmaceutical products that are pushed to people of all genders and races. How many people OD and die from them? What about the numbers of people that die from alcohol abuse?

    • Not to mention the fact that there was a time in this country’s history when the manufacture, possession & consumption of alcohol was also illegal; laws which a good portion of the nation patently ignored, leading to the eventual repeal of prohibition.

      Which leads me to a follow-up question for Salmon Fish: then what’s the point of protesting something that IS legal? (If the Feds really had a problem with this, they could have shut the whole process down the day after I-502 passed. What did they do, both here and in CO? Exactly squat.)

    • Your point about “mostly rich white men will generate huge profits from a newly legitimized business” is specious. The church isn’t protesting because white men will profit of this. They’d be just as opposed to it if the business owners were black, asian, or anybody else. I’m sorry they consider marijuana a harmful substance in their community. So is alcohol (not even addressing the nearby liquor store). Should all alcohol be banned because SOME people have problems with it? Do we have to legislate down to the lowest common denominator for EVERYTHING in society because of the problems caused for a few?

    • Keep in mind that, while white and black people tend to use marijuana at the same right, black people, and particularly black youth, are far more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for marijuana related charges. Being in the criminal justice system leads to recidivism. Is it any wonder that the church sees marijuana as harmful to the community?
      Precisely why this church should be applauding the end of marijuana prohibition. Legalization has removed one excuse for cops to racially profile and harass African Americans.

    • Thank you for this. While I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, your arguments have given me pause and better insight.
      Though, I would offer that a congregation protesting and monitoring the area that people are illegally dealing drugs in *could* have a much higher positive impact than you think.

  4. Yes there should be pot shops all over the city. More competition should mean lower prices and hopefully drive down black market consumption. The tax is also ridiculous. Lower the tax, prices drop, and again you will have more consumption legally. There is no reason why a few business people should have a legalized monopoly. We live in a free market society here after all.

  5. Children go lots of places. Churches are not places that predominantly cater to children. They are no more like a school or day care center than a family style or fast food restaurant is in that regard. In fact most of the kids in the news photos have obviously spent quite a bit more time in fast food restaurants than they have spent in church.

  6. I think the quote from the concerned churchgoer (parent?), “We don’t want kids to have an easy access to drugs,” basically sums up the protestors’ lack of a coherent argument. In the same way that living next to a bank doesn’t mean that you can walk in and have all the money you want, going to church next to a very heavily regulated and secured pot store does not mean that your kids can walk in and buy pot.

    Also, if the argument is about kids’ “access” to pot, wouldn’t the best location for a pot store be the one that kids are only around once a week (when they go to church) with their parents (who can explain to them why they can’t and shouldn’t smoke pot in the same way they can’t and shouldn’t drink alcohol)?

  7. I doubt the city will change the 1000 foot buffer. That fight was tried when the idea of “1000 of walking distance” was pursued as a reasonable substitute for the federally mandated “1000 feet, as the crow flies”. The State doesn’t want to risk it with the Feds. After all, the 1000 foot rule has been the DEA’s guiding principle in challenging medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington.

    What could happen would be the City stepping in to further restrict where shops may be setup. Potentially push them all to SoDo and other industrial areas. Bruce Harrell is a savvy politician, but remember, he’s not running for the City Council’s 3rd District (Capitol Hill, CD, Madison Valley). He lives down in the 2nd District.

    The optics for Ike’s aren’t great. It could be a trancept- It’s right up against the side of the church!

  8. Fuck their superstition. They have no moral high ground over the owner of that shop or anyone else. Welcome to city life. I’m “morally outraged” at the zoning changes that are tearing down a good chunk of ballard. Or the ones that allowed the Ballard blocks development to build 3 story concrete walls on 3 sides of an old lady’s property. Fine, be pissed at how the law was written. Elect those who would correct it. Just drop the BUT CHURCH bullshit.

  9. Lived a few blocks from here for a decade. I kept hoping things would turn around, but with every step forward there was a step back…sometimes two.

    I voted to legalize marajuana. Had I been paying attention and realized that my old neighborhood would turn into “Little Amerstam” (as said by Ian Eisenberg), I would have voted the other way. The CD needs restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, drycleaners, shops (that are not minimarts) etc. My fear is that 23rd and union will comtinue to be the spot to drive in to get your drugs (legal or illegal….and some booze too) and then people will go on their merry way and this will keep away other businesses that the neighborhood needs.

    The reason that uncle Ike’s could even set up here is because there has been no investment. This is the neglected section of Seattle where crap is allowed to happen. I suspect that the opening of 2 pot shops is going to feed the lack of investment. Cops already look the other way. The dealers who have worked these streets for years will have even more customers.

    The pot shops should be going into established retail areas that can withstand the change like 15th Ave. (the video shop would be an ideal spot). I would be game for the city council to pick a few stratatgicly positioned in ALL neighborhoods of the city…not just the ones that have been neglected for decades.

    • Apparently, you haven’t been paying much attention to what’s going on at 23rd & E. Union since you left the area. Even as I type this, there is a six-story mixed-use development going in on the SW corner of the intersection, and a four story one about to break ground just east of 23rd. In addition, the old USPS annex on the SE corner is slated for further development in the very near future. Positive changes ARE coming to the area, and numerous small businesses have already popped up in the interim, particularly west of 23rd on E. Union. Give it about three years and this will be a very vibrant neighborhood anchor in the CD of which a couple of cannabis stores will simply become a part of the increased residential & retail traffic.

    • The new development under construction at the corner of 23rd and Union is owned by the same individual of the marijuana shop opened next to the church. The owner made perfectly clear to Rev. Witherspoon as to his intentions for that corner for apartments. However, he somehow forgot to mention as to his true intentions for the lot next to the church, all directly kitty corner from the new construction.

      Now he can have even more people and children exposed for profit in his business. What a great guy, always thinking of the community !

  10. I currently live about 8 blocks from this intersection. We have a 5 year old and used to occasionally walk over this way to Central Cinema. For many, many years this was the only reason we would come over to this side and otherwise we would walk to the Pike/Pine corridor. Then Chuck’s/Food trucks came in and now we are regulars on this side of the hill. From what I hear and see, things are only getting better. New buildings are coming. New businesses are coming. Uncle Ike’s is a legitimate seemingly well-run business. There is a LOT of density in this neighborhood and as other reefer shops open around town I do not predict this intersection will be a place where people drive to, get their pot and leave. The sky is not going to fall.

    • Same here, except no kid, 10 blocks. We’re at Chuck’s multiple times weekly nowadays.

      I expect that smart entrepreneurs are thinking now about what out-of-town visitors might like to do after they stop by Uncle Ike’s. It’s going to be the obvious pot shop to visit for most anyone who’s staying downtown and/or heading to Capitol Hill for food and entertainment, since the store in SoDo is in an evening dead zone. Demand for more food and more live music over by Ike’s is bound to increase.

      Alternatively, Uncle Ike’s could run a shuttle bus between Pike/Pine and 23rd & Jackson so people can buy weed in the CD, then go enjoy themselves on Capitol Hill. That would be quite a missed opportunity.

    • I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 29 years, live 6 blocks from Ike’s and have 4 kids. We are totally OK with this business and wish them success.

  11. I agree that current zoning laws make it hard to question Uncle Ike’s location from a legal perspective. I don’t care to get into the merits of whether legal pot is good or bad for this community, this city, or this state. I voted to legalize marijuana, but frankly, the pro-pot arguments here are no less emotional and no more logical than those from church members who oppose this shop (and legalized pot in general).

    That said, I do find the thousand-foot rule to be arbitrary, from a public safety perspective. First, it smacks of NIMBYism. This was never proactive zoning, rather, the zoning was designed to keep these shops away from just about everyone. The fact that this one tiny corner of the city didn’t have a school or park near is was just dumb luck.

    If the city does decide to re-think the pot zoning requirements, they should do so proactively. If they’re worried about the Feds, child safety or anything else, I have a simple solution: Instead of placing these shops 1,000 feet away, take the opposite approach. How about a law that requires pot shops to be within 100 feet of a police or fire station? Pot shops aren’t like nuclear reactors. They don’t emit dangerous radiation or gases [sic], so why force them away from what we’re trying to “protect?” By definition, police and fire stations are filled with men and women whose job it is to “protect”. These stations are staffed 24/7, 365 days a year. You don’t make something safer by hiding it in the forrest or behind a factory or a church. If you really want these places to be “safe” put them where people can see them, but be fair and put them in ALL of the neighborhoods.

    • As Ryan A. pointed out, the totally arbitrary 1000-foot rule is one of the song and dance routines Washington state must perform to “get away with” legalizing a federally illegal substance. Otherwise, the DEA will shut down the whole party. We’re in a strange, evolutionary stage where just a tad over half of Americans support marijuana legalization, but it still carries a harsh social stigma. Millions of Americans still harbor the delusion that marijuana is a gateway drug that automatically leads to hard drug addiction. (Coming from decades of false information spread about by federal and local governments). So, I would council patience to legalization hotheads, at least in WA. We’re in the “old timey” phase of legalization, with silly Puritan laws (such as prohibitions on outdoor smoking or smoking in private clubs) as Americans gradually get used to the fact that marijuana doesn’t turn you into a heroin addict or a bum. Let the church folks practice their 1st Amendment rights, and we’ll politely ignore them as they’re on the wrong side of history. Simple economics, the gradual diminishment of the marijuana black market, and law-abiding, working potheads will eventually help relegate this protest to the dustbin of history.

  12. THIS IS AN EXCELLENT BUSINESS FOR THE HIGHLANDS OFF 145TH AND AURORA, BROADMOOR, MADISON PARK, SEWARD PARK ETC, WHERE PEOPLE CAN AFFORD FOR THEIR MONEY TO “GO UP IN SMOKE”???. AS FAR AS A “WEED AND SEED” CRIME STORE ON 23RD AND UNION??? ONLY A COMMUNITY OUTSIDER, DESTROYER, “WANNA BE GENTRIFIER / EHTNIC CLEANSER LIKE IAN OR A “CIRCUS CLOWN” WOULD ATTEMPT TO ADD TO THE MURDER COUNT ON THIS BLOCK CURRENTLY AT 6 (LARRY WARD 1970, CHICAGO NATIVE 1990s (IN FRONT OF HELEN’S / TOMPSON’S VIEW POINT / NEIGHBOR LADIES, BOTH OWNERS OF FORMER BUSINESS BEFORE MED MIX (ARSON FIRE ENDING) ONE OWNER MURDERED INSIDE BUILDING THE OTHER NEAR BY (1990s), AARON ROBERTS (2001), AND KEVIN BROWN (2014),
    WOW WHAT HISTORY NOT INCLUDING THE “FERGUSON STYLE” RIOTING ON THIS CORNER (1968, 1969) AND FORMER MAYOR PAUL SHELL’S ACCIDENT (2001)??? TWO SAYINGS APPLY, ONE “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, YOU JUST MIGHT GET IT” AND TWO, “THOSE THAT DO NOT LEARN FROM HISTORY ARE BOUND TO REPEAT IT”. 23RD AND UNION HAS BEEN / IS THE CENTER OF AFRICATOWN / CD SINCE THE 1950s. HOW WOULD I KNOW??? BEEN LIVING WITH IN 15 BLOCKS OF 23RD AND UNION SINCE 1946 INCLUDING DIRECTLY BEHIND POST OFFICE ON 24TH. PLEASE RESEARCH AND THEN FILE LAWSUIT AS TO HOW IAN ENDED UP WITH “WEED AND SEED” STORE WITH OUT WINING “WEED LOTTERY’???? STAY TUNED THE BATTLE IS AT THE STARTING LINE BUT THE END IS VERY EASY TO SEE??? NO ONE BUT A FOOL WOULD BE FORE A “WEED AND SEED” CRIME STORE TO ADD TO THE CONFLICT ON UNION?? TEAR DOWN THE “WEED STORE” NOT LIBERTY BANK??????? “IT TAKES A VILLAGE (AFRICATOWN AND CHINATOWN) TO RAISE A CHILD”. SEE YOU ON THE CORNER OF 23RD AND UNION DAILY. Omari Tahir, FOUNDER / PRESIDENT AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE MUSEUM AND CULTURE CENTER, AFRICATOWN / CHINATOWN SUPPORTER.
    Reply ↓
    Omari Tahir on Monday, September 29, 2014 – 1:31 am said:
    BY THE WAY DON’T FORGET TO CONTACT THE MAYOR, CITY COUNCIL PEOPLE AND YOUR LAWYER ABOUT THIS ASININE IDEA TO PUT A “WEED AND SEED” CRIME STORE ON 23RD AND UNION WHILE POLITICIANS WALK THE STREETS AGAINST CRIME AND WASTE MORE TAX DOLLAR$$$$$ HIRING 100 MORE UPRODUCTIVE TAX DRAINING ANGRY AND VIOLENT GOVERNMENT STREET AGENTS WITH GUNS AND BADGES WITH LITTLE EDUCATION (MEDICAL DOCTOR WITH OPERATING KNIFE AND ONLY HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA)??? WHAT ABOUT HIRING 100 MORE TEACHERS FOR MADRONA, LESHI, STEVENS, WASHINGTON, MEANY, GARFIELD ECT WITH COLLEGE DEGREES (MASTERS AND PHDs FOR CHEAPER PRICE??? Omari Tahir

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