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Why Seattle’s most densely populated neighborhood probably* won’t have a pot shop

502 celebrated bumbershoot style on election night (Image: Aurea Astro with permission to CHS)

502 celebrated bumbershoot style on election night (Image: Aurea Astro with permission to CHS)

A last minute change in state rules will leave Capitol Hill — Seattle’s most densely populated, most walk-friendly neighborhood — without a retail pot shop. Marijuana retail regulations have solidified with only a few weeks to go before the Washington State Liquor Control Board votes to adopt the final I-502 regulations including revised zoning rules that seem to prohibit retail marijuana on Capitol Hill. However, at least one entrepreneur — who has asked to remain anonymous — tells CHS he is moving forward with plans to apply for a retail marijuana permit despite officials from the Department of Planning and Development saying it won’t happen.

Brennon Staley, DPD’s point-person on marijuana retail zoning, confirmed to CHS that pot retail on the Hill is unlikely, even along 15th where several cannabis entrepreneurs have planned to set up shop.

“Our initial analysis suggests that these rules are likely to prohibit any licensed retail stores in Capitol Hill,” Staley said via email.

Back in January it was clear that marijuana entrepreneurs eyeing Capitol Hill would face an uphill battle.

An early zoning map showed zero opportunity for marijuana retail in what would seem to be some of the most obvious places. The Center for Legal Cannabis developed this map that shows how the overlay of various legal zones made almost the entirety of Capitol Hill ineligible for marijuana retail. The map did show a one block area around 15th and Republican that could be the last opportunity for marijuana retail on the Hill.

The hopeful retailer that spoke to CHS but asked to not be identified said he was confident 15th would have a retail marijuana shop by next year as he and others are already working to secure leases for potential shops.

Over the past year different proposals came and went for retail marijuana zoning. A window of opportunity for retail cannabis on the Hill appeared to open when the liquor board announced it would calculate 1,000 foot buffer areas around marijuana shops by a “common path of travel” instead of “as the crow flies.” As part of the state law, marijuana shops must be 1,000 feet from parks and places where children frequently gather. That door closed when the U.S. Department of Justice insisted the state go back to straight-line measurements.

Earlier this month, the liquor board announced the state would permit 21 marijuana retail locations in Seattle and 334 statewide. Even with a straight line buffer rule, Staley said finding a Capitol Hill area in the clear for marijuana retail is practically impossible.

If Staley’s analysis is right, recreational cannabis customers on the Hill will likely have to trek down Denny across I-5 or to the Central District for the closest retailer. CHS previously reported on how 23rd and Union could be central Seattle’s “Little Amsterdam.” Under the new/old buffer rules, it appears that could still be the case.

Areas zoned for single-family and multifamily housing are definitely out for marijuana retail. Any of the thatched blocks or small orange areas in the map below could have retail marijuana if it wasn’t for any buffer rules. cap hill zoningjpg


Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council is considering legislation to add marijuana DUI to the city’s criminal code. Council Bill 117918 would make driving with any trace of THC a misdemeanor offense. The state legislature passed a similar law earlier this year. Putting the law on city books appears to be an effort to capture fines that would otherwise go to the county. Good to know given more people will be driving to do their pot shopping given the current lay of the land.

UPDATE: And, yes, we believe our reporting from earlier in the year still stands — 23rd and Union is poised to be Seattle’s “Little Amsterdam.”

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17 thoughts on “Why Seattle’s most densely populated neighborhood probably* won’t have a pot shop

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong but:

    1) 23rd & Union seems only likely local area for stores
    2) No signs of banking issues being resolved, so it will be cash-only transactions
    3) If you live on Capitol Hill and don’t have a car you’ll be walking/busing/biking there with wads of cash and returning with your pot. [Note Car2Go opportunity]
    4) This will make you the perfect target for street crime.
    5) 23rd & Union has a long history to overcome. Eg restaurant at NE corner – 2 owners murdered and now an arson.
    6) [Before the Neighbor Lady moved in] the bar was a magnet for large crowds gathering on the street. Have they gone away?
    7) Recall that crime issues prompted owners & SPD to open a short-lived Police outpost on the SE corner, which was itself set on fire (in a half-hearted manner).
    8) Departure of 23rd/Union post office will result in much less traffic in the area, and (presumably) another empty storefront suitable for loitering.

    in brief, this just seems like a very slow-motion train-wreck

    • I agree this is a ridiculous move on the part of the WSLCB .. not to mention there is NO storefront real estate on this corner. The post office block is slated for demo. Multifamily is slated for the SW corner, with construction scheduled to begin next month. The former Key Bank lot is to be a multifamily Cap Hill Housing project. The NW corner is a gas station … I suppose there is a tiny bit of retail running up Union but its smack up against residential.

      This must be fought, not that I’m against marijuana shops but rather I’m against the CD becoming a destination for its purchase.

      • There is nothing to fight, unless you want to lobby for change in the legislature or campaign for another initiative. The WSLCB did not choose 23rd and Union, the location is a product of 1,000 foot buffers that were included in the intiative. The WSLCB cannot change the initiative.

    • Oh and yes Andrew the “huge crowds” hanging outside Thompsons Pt of View now the Neighbor Lady are gone … I’ve lived in the CD since 1997 and I’m not sure what you mean by that. The corner is pretty cleaned up by most standards. Have you been by in the past year or two?

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  3. I may be the lone voice but I am very glad to hear this. We’ve already got far too many places on the hill for people to become intoxicated. We don’t need to make it any easier for people to get stoned. People who want to do that will find a way–they always have. This will perhaps keep them spread out across the neighborhood instead of in dense clumps around retail establishments in areas where people live (and they will most likely smoke outdoors, contrary to the laws on the subject–disrespecting the rights of those who do not wish to inhale their smoke). For those who want to respond and call me names because of my position, please don’t bother. We’re not going to agree on this. Not now. Not ever.

    • The only response I have to your post is that I, for one, DO agree — but then, I’ve never been politically correct so, I’m accustomed to being called names. Let ’em rip!

  4. This will just cause more people to continue to buy weed illegally from their current sources or growing their own, both completely circumventing the initiative and the tax revenue the state expected.

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  6. I hope someone files a lawsuit against the Liquor Control Board. It’s a really nonsensical plan. I can’t help but think that the zoning dictates were written by people who live in a world where everyone lives on a cul-de-sac and people drive everywhere to destinations that are segregated by discrete, widely-spaced zoning: big box retail here, school zone there, office park way over there. In dense areas like central Seattle, physical distance is often trumped by how a street functions and corridors of travel. Varied zoning uses function in close proximity out of necessity, and usually find a way to manage.

    The fact that all of downtown is off-limits under these guidelines shows how poorly conceived they are.

    Forcing MJ shops to be concentrated in just a few small spots is a bad idea, especially for an area like 23rd and Union that has little retail now and is dominated by single family housing. Broadway and Pike/Pine function as our intensive retail/entertainment streets. They already have lots of diverse activity throughout the day and night that put lots of eyes on the streets. They have the transit and the built environment to absorb one or two of these shops. The fact that they are in closer proximity to schools compared to 23rd and Union is really irrelevant. These streets are already surrounded by halfway houses, liquor stores, and bars. I don’t think that allowing a marijuana seller or two to set up shop would suddenly present an unacceptable challenge to keeping the neighborhood safe.

    On top of that, there’s a police station at 12th and Pine. Why not allow a shop to be set up in the immediate vicinity of the East Precinct?

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