Here’s the introduction to their story….
Seattle 4/20 Protests Touch on Race and Inequality in Legal Cannabis
Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop sits on the corner of 23rd Avenue East and East Union Street in Seattle’s Central District, just a mile from downtown. The neighborhood — once Jewish, then Japanese — became largely Black in 1960s. During the crack epidemic of the ‘80s, the block was one of the most dangerous in Seattle, and many Black families with the resources to do so moved elsewhere. Local journalists still tend to refer to the intersection with terms like “gritty,” “long-troubled,” and “infamous,” but the area has been steadily gentrifying since the 1990s.
Ian Karl Eisenberg, who founded Uncle Ike’s, has been buying property on the block since 2009. Besides the pot shop, he owns a restaurant, a car wash, and buildings that house offices and a bar and lounge. Some of these buildings were abandoned when he bought them. Eisenberg has wagered millions of dollars on the block, but until he opened Uncle Ike’s in 2014, he was afraid he’d made a bad bet. The store is now the highest-grossing cannabis retailer in the state.
The area has prospered economically and crime rates have fallen, but gentrification has proven divisive. Uncle Ike’s has provoked the ire of several local groups. On Wednesday, amid the city’s 4/20 festivities, protesters blocked the intersection in front of Uncle Ike’s, shouting “No justice, no weed” and “Uncle Ike’s has got to go.”
The protesters have several objections to Uncle Ike’s. The most immediate is the pot shop’s proximity to the Mount Calvary Christian Center church and the church’s Joshua Generation Teen Center. Washington state law dictates that cannabis businesses can’t be too close to places where children congregate, such as youth centers, schools, and playgrounds. Churches aren’t included on this list, and, in response to a lawsuit filed in 2014 by the church, state lawyers argued that the teen center doesn’t qualify as a youth center, either. According to lawyers who spoke with Pastor Reggie Witherspoon Sr., the teen center is open just ten days a month, and almost exclusively for religious activities. The church has filed two lawsuits against Uncle Ike’s, both of which have been ruled in the store’s favor. NAACP official Sheley Secrest has objected to these decisions, arguing that the law was clearly written to protect children: “Whoever says it’s not a legitimate teen center is ducking, and we want the law enforced.”
Besides its proximity to the church and youth center, some protesters bristle at what they see as a cruelly ironic development in cannabis history. The intersection at 23rd and Union has been the site of many drug arrests. Pastor Witherspoon reportedly told Seattle Mayor Ed Murray that if Uncle Ike’s is allowed to retain its location, then the mayor “needs to let all the brothers and sisters go who are incarcerated for marijuana.” Hip-hop artist Draze takes a similar line in his new song Irony on 23rd, which he performed at the protests Wednesday.
The Seattle Black Book Club (SBBC), a Black-led community organizing group whose members strive for “Black liberation,” has taken an even harder line toward Eisenberg. Their Facebook page features an essay titled “Take A Hike Uncle Ike! Gentrification Stops Here!” In objecting to the store, the article cites neocolonialism and systemic racism, and features a list of demands for Eisenberg. The first is that he give “54 percent of his real estate holdings to the community for the purpose of community-controlled low-income housing.”