LETTER: ‘Open letter to Dow Constantine regarding county’s marijuana policies’

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

Dear King County Executive Constantine,

If there has been any question that King County policies and political practices in 2016 are subject to the continued presence of institutional racism, the actions of the King County Council yesterday, July 25, should end all doubt. Unfortunately, it seems there is much to do before anyone can make an honest claim that institutional racism in King County government has been eliminated.

I’m speaking, of course, about King County marijuana policy, and in particular about its policy on retail marijuana stores.

As you know, in December 2013 by a vote of 9-0, the King County Council passed and you the Executive signed into law the first zoning of state licensed retail marijuana stores in King County. The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board subsequently began the process to issue licenses statewide in May of 2014. By this action by King County, retail marijuana stores were explicitly permitted in only two zones in unincorporated King County–the Regional Business and Community Business zones. By this law, retail marijuana stores are prohibited in any other zone, be it a business zone or otherwise.

King County’s institutional racism enters the picture in that these two zones are concentrated almost exclusively in Skyway and White Center, the two most diverse communities in unincorporated King County. (As you may know, my zip code, 98178, that includes Skyway has been cited as one of the 10 most diverse zip codes in the entire country.) It has long been observed that zoning laws in particular have been a bastion of institutional government racism throughout the history of this country. And, not surprisingly in hindsight, 14 of 17 retail marijuana stores that have been licensed by the State of Washington to date in unincorporated King County are located in Skyway and White Center. There can be no doubt that this high concentration of stores falling exclusively into the two largely Black and Asian communities of Skyway and White Center is a direct result of that self-same 2013 King County marijuana zoning policy. Congratulations. You have also created the highest concentration of state-regulated pot stores anywhere in the state!

Of the diversity of my community, I am justifiably proud. Of my local government’s seeming endemic propensity for institutional racism, not so much, because it seems in these decisions the full weight of that government is being brought to bear against my community, the community of White Center, and virtually no other.

Yesterday’s King County Council meeting did little to address the pleas from my community and those of White Center for the county to end this high concentration of retail marijuana stores. I have been speaking out to King County since May of 2014 about the subject. I could see this happening long before the first retail marijuana store in Skyway opened in December 2014 and I have been vocal and transparent about what I could see coming. At each and every step of the way, I and other members of these communities have continued to express our concern to the county over the inappropriate concentration of these stores in our communities even as the concentration has surpassed our worst fears. It’s debatable whether the token expression of the council, that they have crafted the appearance of making room for up to 6 of the 17 retail marijuana stores to be located in the 3 council districts where 80% of unincorporated residents live, can be at all effective to site even one of these stores in those districts. Such transparently obstructive action by the council would be laughable on its face if this were not such a serious matter. Oh, and now it’s time to put on the brakes–hold your horses folks–so that we can study the effects of marijuana stores on communities before the county will allow them in “certain” areas of the county (wink, wink). To put it another way, every community in the unincorporated county now will be afforded the opportunity to take advantage of better study-informed county-wide marijuana policies except for the communities of Skyway and White Center.

The council’s current action is simply more resistance and obstruction to a policy, whether or not to legalize marijuana businesses in King County, that ought to either have been fairly enacted county-wide in 2013, or to have been acknowledged at the time not to be the true intent of this county. When it comes to unincorporated King County, the council has just tipped its hand that it really doesn’t want marijuana businesses county-wide. I can assure you that no one in Skyway or White Center wants all the county’s marijuana businesses in our communities either.

I have to tell you, sir, that your Department of Permitting and Environmental Review has also been one of the most obstructionist enablers of this fait accompli. To be fair, that department’s mission in government has historically been to support the status quo. Zoning laws are created with the expectation they will last a long time, not necessarily that they are fair. When these land use regulations end up being racist, though, the status quo is really a sad thing to see being enforced. It really shines a bad light on your administration and the governance of the King County Council as local government to the unincorporated area that even in 2016 it continues to be politically more expedient to continue the county’s past racially biased practices than it is to bring fairness to a broken system.

Let these facts be known: More than 80% of unincorporated King County residents these days live closer to a Neighborhood Business zone than they do to a Community Business zone or to the last remaining Regional Business zone in unincorporated King County (that last located in the White Center area). The population center of unincorporated King County is now in rural East King County as a consequence of the county’s implementation of the Growth Management Act. Yet King County zoning policies for retail marijuana stores have never fairly reflected this reality. Your proposed 2016 Comprehensive Plan quadrennial major update does not reflect this reality. And King County’s land use policies for retail marijuana give the majority white communities in the unincorporated county a very powerful basis to object to these stores in their communities while affording absolutely no way for community objections in the majority Black and Asian communities in the unincorporated county to be sustained. We have found through sad and truly disheartening experience that there is no appeal to a land use decision by DPER that is permissible under zoning without development conditions. The status quo rules the day in such cases.

So long as DPER continues to be directed to put on the blinders (or if you like to not to be directed to take off its blinders) and to not fairly administer zoning laws when asked to provide its expert advice in major zoning changes, such as marijuana zoning in 2013, major Comprehensive Plan updates, or in the recent re-visiting of marijuana policy that just occurred, King County will continue to fail in its mission of fairness and justice.

Let this also be clear: At yesterday’s County Council meeting, the council listened to and acted in favor of the objections of communities where no retail marijuana stores are now permissible and against the interests of communities where an over concentration of retail marijuana stores has already occurred. Its actions were patently not fair, such actions are an injustice, and they are a shameful stain on today’s Martin Luther King Jr. County!

Next steps to bring true fairness to this currently broken system at King County? I look forward to your heartfelt response. Institutional government racism, unintentional as it may be, ought to have no place in either today’s King County nor tomorrow’s.

In sincere grief,
–Mark Johnston
Skyway resident

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5 Responses to “LETTER: ‘Open letter to Dow Constantine regarding county’s marijuana policies’”
  1. Brian Kelly says:

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

  2. Mark J says:

    In White Center and Skyway, we’re just trying to convince the King County Council that marijuana stores should be available county-wide. It’s been a harder sell than I expected …

    • Jimmy says:

      Racism really! That a odd argument to make since there’s people from allsorts of races and backgrounds shopping at these pot shops. It’s not just one race or one income level that shop at these locations.

      Seems kinda odd your argument has changed a little since the beginning you claimed you where concerned over a school bus stop next to a pot shop ( not concerned that it’s also next to a busy street and stores that sell alcohol and cigarettes) and poverty levels in the areas you speak of .

      So what do you think people of a certain race or poverty level are just going to automatically start spending all there money on pot just because it’s legal and there a few stores in the area. Umm I think that is being racist in it’s own way.

      • Mark J says:

        No change to my argument at all. And the fact that the same non-white kids will continue to be compelled to use that bus stop when in the same meeting the council blocked even the possibility of marijuana businesses in other unincorporated areas is one of the kinds of effects I cited. Prior to the council’s action, there was hope they would act with fairness, but they clearly did not.

        What do you have against marijuana stores being allowed throughout the unincorporated area, anyway?

        • Jimmy says:

          So are you going call it racism because people can buy fireworks around the 4 of July in the unincorporated areas. Since most city’s have bans is this the state ways to keep low income people in poverty. Are you going to make the same claim about the amount of spots you can purchase beer or hard alcohol is to keep the low income in poverty. Is it racism that city’s like here in burien we have a different garbage company than other city’s.

          Do you know in Boulevard Park next to the library there is a liqueur store with kids walking by it every school day. Alcohol is lot more dangerous than cannabis.

          But you want think only people in the unincorporated areas are the only ones in poverty in washing than your wrong.

          You think the only people shopping at these stores are all local people your wrong.

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