A Seattle marijuana merchant, whose shop is located a few yards from a church, has drawn the wrath of local religion.

Seattle Marijuana ProtestersMembers of the congregation at the Mt. Calvary Christian Center held a protest outside Uncle Ike’s pot shop Oct. 5. They managed to drive off several customers, but only for a short time.

The protesters demanded that the shop be shut down because it’s too close to a church.

Federal officials insist pot shops must be located at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, parks, and video arcades – all places where children gather. But that list doesn’t include churches. Nor does Initiative 502, the Washington referendum that legalized recreational pot in 2012.

Uncle Ike’s is the second marijuana retailer in Seattle, and it opened earlier this fall. Owner Ian Eisenberg said he was fine with the protests.

“They did what they had to do,” Eisenberg said. “I understand they don’t like the law, but Washington overwhelmingly voted for Initiative 502. And, no one contemplated a 1,000-foot-rule from churches.”

Rev. Reggie Witherspoon led the protest and declared that the church would try to change the law through continued rallies against the shop. He called for protests through the rest of the week.

“A rally alone may not be the answer,” Witherspoon told the small crowd. “They must change this law, so we’re going to be here at 12 noon locking arms. We’re going to meet here at 5 p.m. locking arms, maybe not tomorrow because the Seahawks are playing (laughter). . . . Come tomorrow at 12 and then Tuesday through Friday at 5 p.m.”

The church doesn’t have much of a chance, though. Require a buffer zone between stores and churches and you could all but wipe retail weed from Seattle. That isn’t likely to happen.

I-502 passed with broad support, and there’s little chance the legislature would change it to please a small group of religious protesters. That doesn’t seem to have occurred to Witherspoon or his congregation.

Marijuana-Legalization.jpgThe pastor and his group hope to turn back the clock and recriminalize marijuana. That’s not only wrong-headed, it’s impossible. The state has spoken, and the momentum is on the side of reformers, not religious opponents of legalization.

Justin Carter, a local blogger, said traffic dropped at the store during the rally but picked back up to its normal levels after the protesters left. Eisenberg said he suspected “people just drove by when they saw the crowd” and returned later.

He said he wouldn’t try to drive the protesters away as long as they don’t cause problems.

“They’re welcome to,” Eisenberg said. “We have a right to sell legal marijuana, and they have a right to protest. . . . I like pastor Witherspoon. All the people I met from the church are super nice, and I think in the long term we’ll go back to being good neighbors.”

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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