By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
Medical marijuana dispensaries are not linked to neighborhood crime, according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The University of California at Los Angeles study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found that neighborhoods with medicinal cannabis dispensaries in Sacramento were no more likely to have crime than other neighborhoods, reports Jason Koebler at U.S. News.
According to the study's authors, their new research may debunk a 2009 report from the California Police Chiefs Association that claimed marijuana dispensaries "have been tied to organized criminal gangs, foster large [marijuana growth] operations, and are often multi-million-dollar profit centers."
Such arguments are commonly used by opponents of medical marijuana legalization. So far, 17 states and the District of Columbia have allowed the medicinal use of cannabis by authorized patients.
"There's law enforcement and city officials debating whether these dispensaries were attracting undesirables, and there's the other side, the dispensary owners, saying maybe these concerns were unfounded," said the new study's coauthor, Nancy Kepple, a doctoral student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. "But neither side had any evidence that supported either claim."
The UCLA study examined crime rates in 95 areas of Sacramento in 2009, before the city enacted regulations on where dispensaries could be located and had fewer restrictions on the security measures dispensary operators had to meet.
"Whatever security measures were done, the owners chose to do it for themselves [in 2009]," Kepple said. "We specifically selected this time because it was based on a free-market situation."
The researchers aren't sure why they observed no increase in crime around dispensaries, but they suspect that hired security guards and surveillance cameras had an impact. Or it could be, as Kepple speculated in the report, that cannabis dispensaries just don't increase crime "more than any other facility in a commercially-zoned area."
Although a few high-profile murders have taken place in San Francisco and Hollywood dispensaries, those cases aren't representative of any larger trend, according to Kepple and her coauthor, Bridget Freisthler.
"Because of the type of business dispensaries are, any crime there has been well-publicized, bringing more attention to the issue," Freisthler said. "Neighborhood residents get up in arms and it takes a life of its own."
Marijuana dispensaries appear to be no more likely to be victimized by burglars than are liquor stores or other commercial enterprises, according to Freisthler.
The authors said they need to study crime rates in other cities and over time to determine whether dispensaries have long-term impacts on neighborhood crime.
"This is really just the start, and [our findings] seem contrary to what the public debate has been saying," Kepple said. "We wanted to start thinking about the debate from a scientific standpoint."
Corroborating Report Pulled Last Year After It Makes LA City Attorney Uncomfortable
Last September, a report published by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation showed that local crime rates generally increased in areas after the closure of nearby medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. It was seen as dispelling the myth that there are inherent links between marijuana distribution centers and crime.
After initially drawing the conclusion that the dispensaries apparently make neighborhoods safer, RAND apparently made someone uncomfortable, because they then pulled the report from their site.
It turns out that after "vocal criticism" from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, RAND officially retracted last year's study, "Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries: An Overview with Preliminary Evidence of Their Impact On Crime."
"This document has been withdrawn pending further review," RAND said at the time. RAND researchers claimed they intended to conducted a new analysis -- presumably, one more pleasing to law enforcement -- once they have an adequate set of crime information.
"Because that work could take many weeks," RAND said in a release, "RAND officials wanted to be clear that the study's findings cannot be validated at this time."
Since then, almost nine months later, we haven't heard a peep from them regarding the study.
Other cities also have found that dispensaries don't increase crime. A police analysis of Denver crime statistics for 2010 showed that the number of crimes around dispensaries dropped in the first nine months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009.
A separate Denver Postanalysis of citywide crimes in 2010 found that "some Denver neighborhoods with the highest concentration of dispensaries per capita saw a bigger decrease in crimes than did some neighborhoods with no dispensaries."
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.