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.”