Pastor Protests Dispensary’s Location

“Man, ain’t nothing wrong with smoking weed. Weed is from the Earth. God put this here for me and you! Take advantage man, take advantage.” Not everyone shares Smokey’s religious sentiments from the first “Friday” movie. According to the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, in Seattle last Sunday, October 5, Pastor Reggie C. Witherspoon, Sr., lead a protest with some of his followers against Uncle Ike’s dispensary, which opened in close proximity to the Mount Calvary Christian Center.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that during the protest rally there were sparse customers at Uncle Ike’s, the state’s second legal dispensary; however, business picked up when the protesters left. Pastor Witherspoon and his followers are upset the dispensary was allowed to open in such close proximity to their Christian center in the area of 23rd and Union.

Another similar controversy may be brewing according to the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, as another dispensary in the area will be opening in a building shared with a mosque. Pastor Witherspoon promised more protests to come–except when the Seahawks play.

According to Seattle’s Central District News, in 2009, 23rd and Union was “an open-air drug market” in Seattle. Low-level drug dealers who would get caught by law enforcement would receive an option: have the book thrown at them or be subjected to a “call-in.” Family members of the offender would be brought to a meeting to be made aware of in no uncertain terms what the offender was doing, and members of the community would explain the impact of the offender’s behavior.

The offender then had access to social programs to help transition to a non-criminal life, in full view of the community, and with its support. Central District News contrasts this to a drug dealer copping a plea for reduced time, or being sentenced and getting a reduced sentence after telling the judge about his difficult life situation. It was programs like the call-in that the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog cites for “mostly” turning around the area of 23rd and Union over the last five years.

Combining the 23rd and Union area’s history with the placement of a dispensary right next door to a church in the community, and this paints a picture of the indignation members of the Mount Calvary Christian Center might be feeling.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell says he’s beginning to review what led the City Council to approve the locale of Uncle Ike’s dispensary next to a church. The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog says it’s unclear whether churches were given the same buffer considerations as schools and parks when the 2013 Seattle City Council was determining retail marijuana zoning restrictions.

Washington’s Initiative 502 legalized marijuana possession and sale, and was passed by a 56 to 44 percent margin. Along with a ballot initiative allowing same-sex marriages, I-502 was credited with high voter turnout in the Evergreen state; 81.25 percent of registered voters turned out on Election Day in 2012, according to the Secretary of State for Washington’s website.

Pastor Witherspoon and his followers face a hard road if their aim is to overturn I-502. Furthermore, I-502 put marijuana and dispensaries under the purview of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. According to the Liquor Control Board, churches and schools within 500 feet of a proposed liquor store will be notified when someone applies for a license, and be given the opportunity to support or object the application. However, as mentioned above, the circumstances behind the approval of Uncle Ike’s are being investigated by City Council member Harrell.

According to Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ian Eisenberg, Uncle Ike’s owner, understands that the locals don’t like the law, and respects that they have the right to protest it. However, Eisenberg says while there was a buffer set for schools, playgrounds and federally-subsidized housing, no one made a similar rule for churches. The Post-Intelligencer also points out that there are numerous liquor stores visible from the cross streets of 23rd and Union.

But Eisenberg is confident everything will work out. He says that while the church has the right to perform their protests, he has the right to sell marijuana. Furthermore, Eisenberg sounded willing to turn the other cheek and love thy neighbor, when he described the protesters and members of the church as “super nice,” and said that when this all dies down, they will be on friendly terms.

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