As Montclair’s first dispensary prepares to open, some fear it will bring crime
on October 28, 2023
With its inviting grass-green storefront and sleek interior, Element 7 appears to fit in among the well-heeled boutiques lining Montclair Village’s business boulevard. But as the first cannabis dispensary in Montclair, Element 7 is generating controversy just days before its planned opening.
Nestled in the Oakland Hills, Montclair Village is a green glade of suburban-style affluence within Oakland. Residents describe it as a good neighborhood and a safe place to raise a family. Some worry that a dispensary will spoil that vibe, increasing crime and lowering home values.
Reza Aryan, owner of Jewel Box, a nearby retail shop, said he is afraid the dispensary will attract “the wrong crowd coming in to steal.” Aryan said his jewelry store was robbed recently.
Bob Shuken, a retired attorney, worries about his home value. “If you spend half a million bucks to buy a house, you want a safe neighborhood.”
Others are concerned about the impact on kids. Esther Lugo Torres, owner of the herbal spa Au Natural, said, “Do not put it in front of children. To see this happening is mind-blowing.”
David Hartsough, owner of The Book Tree, agreed. “You don’t want your kids around it. Medical dope is OK but should be structured in a more commercial district versus a neighborhood.”
Other residents welcome the dispensary. “To each their own, whatever works,” said Jigisha Darbha, owner of The Atelier, a new lifestyle and craft store.
“The Village is a place that’s really open, it’s diverse,” said Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Montclair Village Association, a group that represents local business owners. “It’s welcoming to everyone, right?”
Company addresses fears
Oakland Police Department’s Area 2 crime report, which includes Montclair, shows robberies up 57% over last year and carjackings up 36%. However, with over 1,000 cannabis dispensaries in California, a study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics found “no evidence that ordinances allowing for marijuana dispensaries lead to an increase in crime. In fact, we see some evidence of a reduction in property crime.”
Josh Black, chief operating officer of Element 7, said the Montclair dispensary will require purchasers to show a driver’s license, baring access to minors. To deter robberies, an armed guard will be posted at the store entrance, and all cannabis products will be stored in a vault at night. “It would take most intruders over an hour to break into,” said Black.
“We have people in our communities that need this product, and we’re trying to give them safe access,” he added.
Melanie Abrams, a lecturer in the English Department at UC Berkeley and author of “The Joy of Cannabis,” considers the dispensary a potential benefit for people in Montclair.
“Whether for recreational use or medicinal, a neighborhood dispensary provides local access to a licensed facility, where you know the quality of the products you are buying, and have access to fine-tuned strains, strengths, and delivery systems to fit specific needs,” she said.
Element 7, named after nitrogen, an element responsible for plant growth, is a large California-based cannabis company with 12 dispensaries around the state.
As of March, there were 34 licensed dispensaries in Alameda County. High taxes, over-supply of inventory, a thriving illicit market, and uncertain politics have made survival a challenge for many operators. In June, facing a glut of applicants, San Francisco halted approval of all new dispensary applications until 2028, putting many applicants’ plans for dispensaries on hold.
Asked about her thoughts on the Element 7’s opening, Councilmember Janani Ramachandran, whose district includes Montclair, responded: “No comment.”
Element 7’s Montclair store is scheduled to open Friday.
(Top photo: Element 7 dispensary, by Nadia Akbar)
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