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

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The White Center 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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8 Responses to “LETTER: ‘Open letter to Dow Constantine regarding county’s marijuana policies’”
  1. Nimby says:

    Well stated.

  2. Jimmy says:

    So Mark Johnston,Question mark or what ever name your using to post on this blog. You think only Asian and African American’s are shopping at these pot shop’s. You think king county and wslcb is putting these stores in place to keep these people in poverty. So you think these races of people don’t have any self control or religious backgrounds that would keep them from purchasing or consuming cannabis. You think these people are just going to spend all there money on cannabis just because there are a few more stores in these areas. See you started your argument one way now that lost your argument your trying change your argument you sound like a sore loser. See I my self prove parts of your argument flawed when I first read them. After looking around at different blogs and other sites you posted on and see your background I knew you are full of B.S.

    if you really think this has to with race or poverty then what have you been smoking on !

  3. Mark J says:

    I’m not the only one who is concerned about how differently King County is responding to the concerns of communities in unincorporated King County.

    I’ll admit, Jimmy, that you’ve taken quite an interest in my posts. But I hardly think there’s anything I have said that you’ve dis-proven. People who have their own agenda often put on blinders of ignorance to other views.


    • Jimmy says:

      I have already seen that article and if you think the Seattle weekly a trusted news source then your mistaken. There nothing but a bunch of college students trying to get credit in journalism. Do also think there attractive ladies looking for honest dates on the back pages of that paper.

      Just because your polical buddy in skyway agrees with you does not make you right. Seems odd you don’t seem to have any issues with the underground or black market cannabis sales by some in the African American community. But you call out the agency involved in trying to legalize cannabis as being races. When the people of the African American community that choose to sale cannabis illegally are not making much money now do to these legal stores opening in areas like skyway and white center. Especially when these people can sell to anyone of any age. I think you should spend more time in your community fighting these issues instead of fighting the people that are trying to change the laws in the right direction.

      Also anyone of legal age that has the money to start a location can so what is races about that. Also the individual city’s have wored with the WSCLB to make there allotted amount of stores but in the unincorporated areas they don’t have city restrictions same reason why these areas can sale firework’s around the 4th of July. When most city’s around have different laws on firework’s. Now these areas have also been going back and forth with annexation that would make these areas have more restrictions or laws.

      • Jimmy says:

        Also you seem not to realize how many people of the African American community are not being put in jail or getting a ticket for possession of cannabis. This is a part of law that helps to keep people out of the system. Because what tends to happen when someone gets in the system then they tend to go on a path of more crime unfortunately.

  4. Jimmy says:

    Mark do you also think it’s a form of racism that some city’s and county’s use black garbage bags in there city or county Parks instead of clear transparent trash bags.

  5. DAISY ADRIACO says:

    We in the White Center area have the largest area of King County Housing, yet federal law does not allow marijuana use on federal funded housing projects. I oppose marijuana use, and our state has over 14 percent usage of this drug. As with any drug, you will not be able to argue with users the damage done to one self. We also need to blame the voter as we are getting what we voted for in the form of council member–though I also doubt the integrity of King County “politics”.

    • Jimmy says:

      Daisy people in federal housing are not forced to consume cannabis as is anyone force to consume cannabis it is up to the individual at the age of 21 or older with the correct identification. To make the choice of consuming or not.

      If someone chooses to consume on federal land they can be charge for that crime same with with national parks you can still be charge with possession. same as if you consume in public you can get a ticket. That is if some one takes the time to report the person and the police have nothing else better to do ( very low priority call) or they happen to just spot the person in the act.

      Now a person like your self that does not like cannabis that’s fine that is your choice. Now the voters of Washington have agree to make recreational cannabis safe and legal. So the state is following along. The state has made agreements with the city’s in Washington to have allotted amounts of these shops. Now in these unincorporated areas they do have the same allotted amounts.

      Also Daisy thumb’s up on fixing your keyboard issue. I am glad to see your not yelling your comments out anymore.

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