What’s not to like about Uncle Ike’s?

Uncle Ike's in the Central District has pushed laws that limit pot stores to one 1,600-square-inch sign by putting larger neon signs on its paraphernalia shop next door, and on a mural next to the shop. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)
Uncle Ike’s in the Central District has pushed laws that limit pot stores to one 1,600-square-inch sign by putting larger neon signs on its paraphernalia shop next door, and on a mural next to the shop. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

“We was red lined in but now we black balled out so they can sell green… Ike is no uncle to me. How many brothers went to jail on this corner from moving dime bags. In a week he doing, what, a couple of hundred grand?”

Local rapper Draze’s mournful track “Irony on 23rd” has become an anthem for people in the Central District who view Uncle Ike’s, one of the city’s most popular legal pot shops, as a slap in the face.

Since it opened in late 2014 the store has been a source of controversy for the reasons Draze outlines so eloquently in the song — from community members feeling voiceless in the process of land development, to the unfairness of a wealthy white business owner profiting from doing the exact same thing that many poor people of color are still in jail for.

So today on 4/20, the pot smoker’s holiday, community members of plan to take their next stand against Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop.

Protestors will convene at 3pm at Garfield High School before making their way to Uncle Ike’s.

“Unity On Union” is the call to action. Organizers include Draze himself, the NAACP, Africatown, Mount Calvary Christian Center, The Black Book Club, Seaspot Media group and Third Level Events.

Ian Eisenberg, the owner of Uncle Ike’s, didn’t respond to my interview requests. During past protests Eisenberg had been mostly dismissive.

“I feel like I’m in a Spike Lee movie,” he told the Seattle Times earlier this year when hundreds of protestors broke off of the yearly MLK Day March and forcibly shut down the store for a few hours.

But a lot of other people did want to talk about Uncle Ike’s — how it’s become a symbol for uneven development in the CD and the displacement of a historically black community — and the specific legal and ethical issue of the store’s proximity to its neighbor, Mount Calvary Christian Center, and the Joshua Generation Teen Center across the street.

Section 18A of Initiative 502 originally stated that marijuana could not be sold, “within one thousand feet of the perimeter of a school grounds, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, or library, or any game arcade admission to which is not restricted to persons aged twenty-one years or older.”

But it has since been amended at the discretion of the city to only require retail businesses selling marijuana to have a 500 feet buffer when it comes to child care centers, game arcades, libraries, public parks, public transit centers, and recreational centers or facilities, or 250 feet in the case of property zoned downtown mixed commercial and residential.

Unless the city is now classifying the Central District as downtown, Uncle Ike’s does not appear to meet the required buffer. But rather than put the burden of proof on the business owner, it has been up to the Mount Calvary to prove that the Joshua Generation Teen Center falls under one of the protected categories.

“So the law does not specifically say teen centers or it doesn’t say churches or it doesn’t say mosques,” say Draze. “But I think the spirit of the law when they created it was trying to make sure we had discretion in protecting the youth.”

Mount Calvary tried to argue this point in court for the purpose of getting an injunction to keep Uncle Ike’s from opening in the first place, but lost on the grounds that the Teen Center was not open enough days to meet the criteria.

This didn’t sit well with Reggie Witherspoon, who has been the Pastor at Mount Calvary for 28 years.

“To discredit my teen center and to disrespect my youth and to say it’s not a legitimate teen center is asinine and very offensive,” he said.

For him, the proximity of the weed store to his church is more than just a technicality.

“It’s against everything,” says Witherspoon. “It’s the opposite of what we teach our young people relative to taking care of themselves, the impact of drugs etc. So for them to have to see it every week is just not a good look.”

He says he met with Mayor Ed Murray soon after he learned what Eisenberg was planning to do with the property, which had previously hosted a Mediterranean restaurant that closed after an arson in 2013.

“And I told the Mayor that if this were Magnolia and you were 250 feet away from those white kids in Magnolia, I don’t believe you’d allow the store to open up,” he says. In the end, he concludes, the city prioritized tax revenue over the well-being of the children.

But it’s not just about weed. It’s really about respect for the community.

“This is not an attack on anybody who smokes marijuana or who doesn’t smoke or anyone who has a pot shop, that’s not our issue,” say Draze. “There is one pot shop in the state of Washington that is within the legal of 500 feet from where youth assemble. And it just happens to be in what is known as a traditionally black neighborhood in Seattle. I just don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

Neither does lawyer Sheley Secrest, the Vice President and Chair of Economic Development for the Seattle King County chapter of the NAACP.

“These types of stores, weed stores, that doesn’t happen in white neighborhoods. Mothers, parents, everyone would be outraged at the idea of a store selling these types of drugs within a 500 foot you know radius of where children hang out,” she says.

Only a few feet separate Uncle Ike's Pot Shop and Mount Calvary Christian Center. The Joshua Generation Teen Center is across the street. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)
Only a few feet separate Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop and Mount Calvary Christian Center. The Joshua Generation Teen Center is across the street. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Over the past few years, Secrest has spent a lot of time contemplating how development can be approached from the standpoint of community benefits.

“We want to be able to be a part of the development,” says Secrest. “We want it to reflect our needs and our wants. We wanted to be able to see the beauty of our culture in our neighborhood so that’s what this action on 420 is about. It’s developing yes, but with a community benefits approach.”

That might seem like an abstraction, but Jaebadiah Gardner of OnPoint Real Estate sees real ways to make that happen.

“In particular to our neighborhood, it really boils down to not being able to have the wealth and resources to acquire the things that we need to maintain our foothold,” says Gardner who recently won a Business Human Rights Leader award from the City Office of Civil Rights.

To him, lack of employment opportunities have also systematically prevented the community from being able to keep pace with the housing market. Gardner calls out the big employers like Amazon and Boeing and asks why they insist on hiring transplants when there are perfectly good local candidates who could fill those positions.

“It’s not just about white people coming in and pushing us out. It’s more about what job employment are we not getting, A, and B, how do we come together as a community to acquire real estate in the Central District in a productive way?” asks Gardner.

Gardner views protests as a Band-aid, and hopes this incident with Uncle Ike’s will be a catalyst for the community to come together to take preventative measures.           

“I’m going to host a pretty informal community meeting to literally just lay out the lay of the land in the Central District, to just inform everybody where development projects are going on. Because its also a foresight thing,” says Gardner. “I don’t expect a single mom or the grandparents who take care of their kid’s kids to be on top of this, so I feel like my duty is to make sure that my company informs the community and hope the community uses the information to its best advantage.”

“The eyes of the country are looking at Seattle to see how we handle this.”

Draze is looking forward as well — though his gaze is turned towards how an informed community can make pragmatic decisions about its elected officials.

“Uncle Ike’s is not our focus,” he explains. “It might seem that way. But let’s just say that our focus is our elected officials, our state liquor board etc, they’re the focus. Ian [Eisenberg] doesn’t have the power to change this beyond moving, and he’s already proven that he doesn’t have a heart, not for us, not for these issues.”

If you’re looking for more irony, consider the parallels between the city’s handling of Uncle Ike’s and the push to shut down hookah lounges last summer. Both are cases of businesses operating on the blurry edges of the law. But while the Mayor threatened to shut down the mostly Somali-owned Hookah Lounges, driven by the perception of them hosting a criminal element, he seems to be going out of his way to protect Uncle Ike’s.

“That right there is a shining example of institutionalized racism. If you have the resources and you’re white and you’re able to do things that you know black people couldn’t do,” says Gardner. “We’ve been selling weed for hella long and we’ve been getting in trouble for it, and now its okay? For real? Now its okay? Because you’ve got a license? Because you can afford to get a license?”

“They need to know its wrong, that they blew it,” says Draze in reference to the Mayor and the State Liquor and Cannabis Board. “The community knows it’s wrong and wants them to do something about it, and if they don’t, jobs will be on the line down the road. It’s not a compromise.”

But the stakes are even higher than what happens with Uncle Ike’s and Mount Calvary. Draze views Seattle as the guinea pig for what is likely going to happen across the country.

“The eyes of the country are looking at Seattle to see how we handle this, how we do this, so lets make sure we do it and do it right,” he implores.

“I just want to invite people to come out, sign the petition, and let their voice be heard.”

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19 Comments

  1. “It’s really about respect for the community.”

    Is this the same community who applauded 2 young black girls attacking an elderly Jewish man (Bernie Sanders)? Is this the same community who made an icon Michael Brown, who can be seen in photos chocking an elderly Asian store clerk? Is this the same community who uses the enormous amount of violence their young commit as a shakedown? Is this the same community who shows no outrage over the murders of elderly (Tubaman, Danny Vega, Danny Chin, James Paroline) by the young people in their community?
    These people are a lynch mob looking for an excuse to harass and extort from this Jewish man. It’s a pattern of black on Jewish harassment that’s been going on for the last half century and has incited anti-Jewish hate crimes. Shame on these people who are acting like the KKK. And shame on the left for refusing to call it what it is.

  2. “”It’s really about respect for the community.”

    Another version of the race card is the “I was dissed” claim as an excuse to persecute. I’ve heard this excuse used all my life by blacks to justify violence and abuse of others.
    It should also be noted that the protesters are demanding tons of money from Ike’s. As is the norm, this is also extortion, which is a crime.

  3. Jane, Thank you for taking the time to read my piece. From my perspective when you listen to what Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Janae Johnson (those two black girls have names) had to say at the Bernie Sanders rally, their attack was not on Sanders but on the white supremacist patriarchy that has allowed for systemic violence against black people to become normalized. But I digress, this was not the topic of this particular article, so let me address your more relevant comment. To be clear the protestors are asking for two things: 1) for the Joshua Generation Teen Center which has operated in the central district for the last 18 years to be recognized by the state government as a place where youth convene and 2) for this specific business owner to comply with the state mandate that his establishment be located at least 500 feet away from where youth assemble. I’m unclear as to how this can be construed as extortion. No one is asking for money. And as for the accusation that “these people” are acting like the KKK, I think you might want to do more research on this so that you understand the difference between a peaceful exercise of the first amendment right to free speech and the violent blind hatred expressed brutally by the klan. This is not a hate crime and it is offensive to insinuate otherwise. I also take exception to your accusation that people in the Central District didn’t grieve the murders of Danny Chin and the others. Every life lost is a tragedy.

  4. Mara and Marissa demanded 4 minutes of silence for Mike Brown, a black man who brutually assaulted an elderly Asian store clerk then tried the same thing on a cop and ended up dead. There is a huge irony that two black girls in Seattle attack an elderly Jewish man in the name of a young black man who attacked an elderly Asian man on the other side of the country. It is a pattern of black abuse towards Asians and Jews that has been going on for over 50 years. It’s a pattern of abuse by young blacks towards the elderly that we see in the NW. Almost all the violence against the elderly and vulnerable in the NW has been by young blacks and you want to play the victim card? Blacks make up less than 6% of the population but get about 80% of the social service funds and you want to extort even more? Why aren’t these people protesting the black crack dealers and pimps that loiter on that corner and have been doing so for decades? No handouts to be had? Because they are black? It’s racism and extortion on the part of the black activists, and it’s a pattern that’s been going for decades. The systemic violence is coming far more from blacksthen they are on the receiving end. But god forbid anyone ever object to that.

  5. I am 100% for the BLM movement and for keeping gentrification out of Seattle, especially neighborhoods like CD. However, this article seems to be an attack piece (on Uncle Ike’s and also to cannabis itself) and missing a TON of key information.
    1.) I am a legal medical marijuana patient. This state’s MMJ system is basically useless, so I rely on recreational shops to get my medicine. It is legal in this state and it is medicine.
    2.) I can also legally buy alcohol at basically anywhere in the entire city, especially in lower-income/black communities where places to buy alcohol are planted everywhere, and alcohol can actually be extremely bad and there are countless lives lost because of it. Nobody has ever died or gotten in a bad bar fight because they smoked a bowl. What’s stopping any kids at the church or teen center from going next door to a gas station and trying to buy a Mike’s Hard and hoping the person at the counter doesn’t ID them. I don’t remember the last time I got carded for alcohol, however today I was carded FOUR TIMES by FOUR DIFFERENT PEOPLE at a recreational shop. So the argument that it’s too close to youth or whatever is total bullshit. It’s not heroin or crack cocaine, it’s a legal plant that simply makes you feel better.
    3.) Saying that Ian Eisenberg/”Ike” was dismissive at the last protest based on that article is bananas. Did you even read anything he said or care to do any other research? How about all the anti-semitism he received and was called a “weird ass from Israel who was part of the IDF” and calling him a “reactionary cracker”, which was met with resounding applause and support from the protestors. If THAT is not a huge sign to how twisted and misguided this protest is, I don’t know what is. Also he was actually born and raised here, not a random white dude trying to come in and cash in on cheap property. Or about how it was assumed he owned a certain property, when in fact, Capital Hill Housing does. He owns 5 properties and 4 of them were vacant before he bought them. The 5th was an auto body repair shop, but he never displaced anyone’s homes.
    5.) YES PEOPLE ARE ASKING FOR MONEY. There was a list of demands presented. They want Ike to make 54% of his properties into community controlled low income housing. He has said this doesn’t make since because he wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgages on the housing and then the bank would foreclose on it. Sounds like a great idea. They also demanded him to pay for legal services for POC who were arrested for drug charges, money for community things, build a community center, and to give funds to anyone who’s been displaced because of gentrification.
    6.) Read the things Ian Eisenberg said in response to the protests. He has said he has no problems with the protests, especially if it’s something that is important to people in the community. He states he also has a problem with most of the things they were saying and has reached out for a more direct dialogue with community/organization leaders, because trying to have a conversation with 500 people at a protest wouldn’t reasonably work. None of them responded to him in efforts to talk or reach a compromise on anything.

    I got all of this information from just a few other/real Seattle news publications that have covered this protest and past protests. Please please please, do a little more research before writing an article like this.

  6. First of all we the Community DO NOT approve of violence in any form to anyone. & for you to make that blanket statement is truly a racist irresponsible act on your part. Your just trying to justify the institutionalize racism to make yourself feel better thus putting Blacks down. Yet you can’t put that weed shop next to a Church, or Teen Center in a white neighborhood. Your such a hypocrite police have been violent towards us for years in this City, & Community since l can remember. Now you own that. As far as Bernie Sanders is concerned he wasn’t attacked he was being interrupted, & like the smart man that he is he let BLACK LIVES MATTER group speak, & because he knows that this is a WORLD, & NATIONAL LONG OVERDO MATTER pun intended that he himself supports which by the way has NOTHING TO DO with OUR Community being disrespected slap in the face by uncle icky!!!

  7. Can you not see that the white man was the one who put ALL THE DRUGS in our Communities in the first place, & then arrested blacks for possession, forced us to sell our houses wouldn’t give us loans to improve our houses, & wouldn’t fix the MANY potholes in the streets. Can’t you see that was the plan in the first place hypocrites!!!

  8. Now that the whites have moved in the Community they’re fixing everthing the the streets or pipes haven’t been fixed the whole time when the Community was 80% Black. Hypocrites contributed to the down fall of our Communities by the weed and seed program, arresting blacks for Oliver North crack thus giving us felonies where we can’t sell weed now & police brutality. Thanks white people you did it again over 500 years, & counting!!!

  9. The biggest lie ever told is that Blacks have been violent towards others for decades. No asswipe we’ve been the victim of violence for CENTURIES our Communities have had no share of the tax money that we have paid for DECADES example Washington DC taxation without representation that’s untill whites moved in, but you new this didn’t you well some of you aren’t educated when it comes to American his-story!!!

  10. Hmmm. We’d be HAPPY to have Uncle Ike’s here in Bellevue. That way I wouldn’t have to drive all the way into that mess up on 23rd and Union once a week to buy my PERFECTLY LEGAL POT.

    If anything, Uncle Ike’s brings revenue to an area that has been in TERRIBLE shape for years. People like me, who will drive out of my way to spend money not only at Uncle Ike’s but some of the other businesses in the area while I am there. Just last week I spent almost $850 at a couple of local businesses there IN ADDITION TO Uncle Ike’s.

    And trust me, it is no easy feat to get from here to Uncle Ike’s. having to deal with that traffic mess caused by a failed city government. It’s just that Uncle Ike has product that is exclusive to that particular shop.

    So hey, maybe I could give Ian Eisenberg and see if he could find a way to move his very successful (did I mention totally legal) business to the Eastside so that y’all can go back to the way things were.

    It certainly would save ME a trip, and I could spend my money closer to home, where MY neighbors could benefit.

  11. Black people went to jail for selling cannabis on that corner when it was illegal. The laws have been changed and now a white man is selling it on that corner with impunity. First, someone ought to explain to “Draze” that that’s not irony. Second, I think we all know that no one would be protesting this business if it were black-owned and that’s pretty odious.

  12. Whites move out of CD?

    Racism!

    Whites move back in?

    Racism!

    Pick a lane and stick to it ladies.

  13. “Black people went to jail for selling cannabis on that corner when it was illegal”

    Well, to be fair, they also had a habit of shooting at each other and occasionally actually hitting each other with those bullets.

    When you see Ike shooting up his competitors and not paying taxes, let me know.

  14. People are complaining it’s outrageous that you are arrested for selling pot on the street corner but you can sell it in a store?
    Alcohol is sold in stores all the time, but if I sell it on the street corner I’d be arrested.
    Food is sold in restaurants and supermarkets but if I sold food on the street corner I’d be arrested.
    The pot business is no different.

  15. The new Equity and Environment Agenda does not include the kind of environments such as this that impact the social and emotional and economical well being of African Americans. Allowing drugs in the midst of our children and insults against our Elders who built this church detracts from us as a people. And when WA State tells our children through their lack of response to requests we make that the are of a people who have no value, whose tax dollars are not the same as those of Whites how is that a healthy environment.

    The stress of being Black in America is a major killer. A well respected Cardiac Specialist says that absent the end of racism against blacks which is much more violent than against any other people, a pill needs to be be discovered to protect our health and well being. I did not come up with that a doctor who sees the disparity in heart and stroke disease for otherwise healthy living black people.

  16. This is an estimate!
    March Revenue: 1,461,633
    Expenses____________
    State Tax: 540,804
    Banking: 50,000
    Insurance: 15,000
    Cost of Goods: 400,000 (Assuming their mark up is 3.7%)
    Pay Roll: 219,244.95 (Assuming 15% for Payroll)
    Mortgage: 20,000
    Security: 20,000
    Utilities: 10,000
    Misc: 20,000
    Net Profit: 166,585
    I forgot to include IRS taxes as well. So who knows how much they make… Many of you might think Uncle Ikes is bringing in “all this money” but really the other Uncle is.. Uncle Sam.

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