King County Council made news, and ruffled more than a few feathers, when it announced a four-month moratorium on new, legal pot shops in rural and unincorporated parts of the county. In a rare move, the action was taken without notice and without public input. Sponsored by Councilmember Reagan Dunn, the full stop on legal pot shops comes in response to more than one hundred complaints from residents who are concerned about everything from public safety to air quality. These residents, and members of the Council are concerned these sections of the county are being inundated with legal storefronts.
The response on social media has been swift- one faction applauds the county for taking action quickly, and the other faction has a lengthy list of complaints and concerns: negative impact on small businesses, the lack of public hearings or input (the council has promised to hold hearings within 60 days), and the general legalities of the moratorium.
If you live in a state where marijuana is not yet legally sold, let me sum it up for you: it’s complicated.
On the one hand, most everyone agrees decriminalization of marijuana has been long overdue. The war on drugs has been a failed, harmful cadre of policies and practices costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives within and outside our borders.
Legalized weed means taxes, and taxes mean revenue. Can’t be a bad thing.
Increasing the revenue stream means increasing access to the product.
And therein lies the rub; location, location, location.
Within the black and other communities of color, legalized marijuana isn’t necessarily something people welcome with open arms, in fact, it’s downright controversial. Black and brown kids fill youth jails all across this country, serving time for pot related crimes. More pointedly, the use of marijuana by black and brown kids has always been highlighted as having a negative impact on personal and social lives, education, and families. In short, marijuana is considered a gateway to, or at the very least, a symbol of, a young life on the path of potential destruction.
If marijuana is bad, legal marijuana is even worse. Legal weed in the black community is a powder keg.
The shining example for Seattle is Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop on 23rd avenue in the heart of the Central District, Seattle’s historic black neighborhood (emphasis on history. #RIPCD). The CD has been the focus of intentional gentrification and redlining for(ever) about 20 years, but in the past 10 years, those efforts have permeated every layer of the neighborhood, from transportation construction, over-priced housing, re-drawing of school enrollment boundaries and now the arrival of Vulcan; if there is one company in the real estate and development business that epitomizes anti-historic CD, it is Vulcan, an entity absolutely shameless for displacing anyone who might need anything close to resembling affordable housing. But I digress.
Uncle Ike’s has black and brown folks up in arms. First, it was brought into the community by an “outsider.” Second, while it may be a prime spot for making money (and Ike’s pulls a stupid amount of money), which is what businesses do- it’s also smack dab in the middle of a community on a main arterial drag. Elder housing, elementary, middle and high schools, community centers and churches.
A legal pot shop in this location is probably not a good look, and definitely lacks social awareness or responsibility. What does the socially-conscious-side of Seattle do? What we always do- protest.
The latest demonstration was a week ago on “4/20” the unofficial holiday for marijuana smokers all over the globe. The owners of Ike’s decided to throw a party to celebrate, because why not make a little more money on top of the money you’re already making? It’s like a huge dish of money pasta with extra money sauce on top.
A few months ago, protesters had the owners of Uncle Ike’s shook up. It can’t be easy to wake up one morning and discover you have literally been chosen as the poster child for every negative ripple caused by gentrification.
There were meetings, apologies, and promises.
At no time did Ike’s say by golly you are right! We have no business being here! We’ll move somewhere that doesn’t put the health and safety of black and brown youth at risk. Hashtag allyship!
Ike’s is going nowhere. Picket signs will not change that.
That is not to say protests are futile and have no place- they absolutely do, but protests lose their power when the people engaging in them try to use the platform to accomplish what is not possible- in this case, getting rid of a specific business in a specific community.
Likewise, a boycott would be pointless, as the clientele extends far beyond those who oppose its presence, no matter how many protests or boycotts are staged, there will still be a line of pot shoppers out the door, waiting to hand over their coin for some wacky tabacky.
So when we look back at the life story of Uncle Ike’s, what will history reflect? A few seasons of catchy call and response chants, or decisive, unwavering action? Perhaps it’s time to redirect efforts away from a single business, and instead towards the city or county leaders.