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Op-ed: Forty Acres cannabis club is a nightmare

Forty Acres cannabis collective is on the second floor of 1820-1828 San Pablo Ave. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Forty Acres cannabis collective is on the second floor of 1820-1828 San Pablo Ave. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

I support medical marijuana, decriminalization of marijuana, even recreational marijuana for those who enjoy it. But I opposed Forty Acres’ cannabis club and was dismayed that some of the city council made supportive noises about finding a way to permit the business as currently owned and run.

It isn’t just the traffic congestion, the double parking, the blocked driveways full of party cars with thumping music at all hours. It isn’t even the constant secondhand smoke for blocks, both marijuana and tobacco, nor the steady stream of profanity from the customers if you even try to talk to them about needing to exit your driveway or pull in after a long hard day or night. It isn’t the flood of businesses that went under when Forty Acres set up shop, or the open air drug market that has taken over the sidewalks, parking lots, and bus shelters. Forty Acres argues that none of this has any connection to their business, and perhaps it is all a coincidence.

All of that pales in comparison to the three young black men who have been shot to death within half a block of Forty Acres after its inception; a coincidence, perhaps, but worth a moment of concern. Three young black men whose deaths did not interrupt Forty Acres’ steady, lucrative stream of drug transactions for even a day, a stream also uninterrupted on Christmas and Christmas Eve. It’s hard to fit the thousands of customers Forty Acres boasts about on their website into a tiny area with no parking whatsoever, but that doesn’t stop people who are high as a kite.

Ours was never a trouble-free neighborhood. But those of us who have lived here for decades know better than to credit Forty Acres’ claim that other businesses are responsible for what they seem to acknowledge are issues surrounding their premises. I would be the first to say that there is very possibly no straight line of responsibility between the Forty Acres cannabis club and the three young men who were shot to death nearby. The City of Berkeley staff, my neighbors, and I have all tried very hard not to blame Forty Acres staff or their customers for problems which may well be simply coincidence.

But I can no longer wish them well in a new location. For those of us who live nearby and have had to severely alter our lives, Forty Acres has been a nightmare. We try to be patient with the byzantine legal mechanisms used by Forty Acre’s owner, who seems to have no intention of ever complying with rules or law. To us, the connection regarded as coincidence by some is very tempting.

The Forty Acres customers who came to support it at the City Council hissed and literally spit at neighbors who came to share stories of being unable to open their windows or use their yards because of the smoke and the profanity, and were treated to the tired implication that their opposition was racist.

I think we all struggle with racist stereotypes. But it strikes me as racist to imply that West Berkeley’s historic black community is best represented by drug businessmen who care so little about the health of a neighborhood cherished and nurtured with hard work by dozens of dedicated residents and business owners. We have a right to breathe clean smoke-free air where we live, and as we walk to and from our neighborhood businesses in what is supposed to be a smoke-free commercial district.

Three young black men have lost their lives to the drug-friendly, cash and gun infused flea market perhaps coincidentally surrounding 40 Acres on San Pablo Avenue. Is that a black thing? I refuse to believe so.

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Carol Denney is a singer, writer, and veteran activist of social justice movements.