The mostly African-American groups say the pot store is too close to a local church’s teen center.
Protesters, mostly representing African-American groups, marched on Uncle Ike’s pot shop in Seattle’s Central District Wednesday, saying the store is too close to a local church’s teen center.
While the city’s top-selling pot retailer celebrated 4/20, the unofficial stoner holiday, about 100 protesters blocked the 23rd Avenue East and East Union Street intersection, cheering speeches and chanting “No justice, no weed” and “Uncle Ike’s has got to go.”
Some protesters locked arms to keep Ike’s customers from coming and going. But customers still managed, with help from Ike’s security employees, to find openings for entering and exiting.
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Police set up detours for traffic around the intersection.
The main problem with Ike’s, according to protest organizers, is that it was permitted next door to the Mount Calvary Christian Center church and about 250 feet from its Joshua Generation Teen Center.
That’s too close, said the church’s Pastor Reggie Witherspoon Sr. “My kids’ lives are more important than a dollar bill.”
Witherspoon said he wasn’t arguing against marijuana but Uncle Ike’s location.
“It’s about respecting youth wherever they congregate,” said hip-hop artist Draze, a protest organizer. “Our issue is with lawmakers for letting Uncle Ike be here.”
Draze performed his song “Irony on 23rd” (Warning: explicit language) in the street, which includes the line, “the place of our ruin is a street called Union.”
State law prohibits pot businesses from being too close to venues where youth congregate, such as schools, playgrounds and game arcades. When the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) licensed Uncle Ike’s in 2014, the required distance was 1,000 feet.
Churches are not restricted venues, but recreation centers are.
In response to a 2014 lawsuit filed by the church, state lawyers argued that neither the church nor city officials objected during a 20-day time window for complaints before the LCB granted Uncle Ike’s a license.
State lawyers also concluded the teen center didn’t qualify as a recreation center. After talking to Witherspoon and checking the center’s activities, lawyers said the center was open about 10 days a month and primarily for church-related functions, such as youth Bible study. The most recent program at the teen center without a religious focus was tutoring that occurred about a year earlier.
After a King County Superior Court judge ruled against the church’s motions for a restraining order and injunction, it dropped the suit.
Local NAACP official Sheley Secrest said the law’s intent is clearly to protect children. “Whoever says it’s not a legitimate teen center is ducking, and we want the law enforced,” said Secrest, economic development chair for the NAACP’s Seattle King County chapter.
Witherspoon called the state’s decision to license Ike’s a “double standard.”
Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg watched the protest from the edge of his parking lot. “ I just wish the protesters would respect that the Civil Rights movement was about the law being applied equally to all people, regardless of color or beliefs,” he said. “If the church’s teen center is really the protesters’ issue, the court has already determined that the LCB was correct in granting my license.”
Witherspoon said he told Mayor Ed Murray that if a pot shop is allowed at the corner of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street, where African Americans were arrested for selling illegal weed, then the mayor “needs to let all the brothers and sisters go who are incarcerated for marijuana.”