LAPD chief: Pot clinics not plagued by crime
January 15, 2010
Tony Castro, Los Angeles Daily NewsDespite neighborhood complaints, most medical marijuana clinics are not typically the magnets for crime that critics often portray, according to Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck. "Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries," Beck said at a recent meeting with editors and reporters of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Opponents of the pot clinics complain that they attract a host of criminal activity to the neighborhoods, including robberies. But a report that Beck recently had the department generate looking at citywide robberies in 2009 found that simply wasn't the case.
"I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra," said Beck. "It doesn't really bear out."
In 2009, the LAPD received reports of 71 robberies at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to 47 robberies at medical marijuana facilities which number at least 800, the chief said in a follow up interview, in which he provided statistics from the report.
Beck said he had asked for a comparison of robberies at the two types of businesses because of the growing public outcry -- as the City Council debates tighter restrictions on clinics -- that those facilities have become an increasing target for crime.
He said he thought a comparison of banks and medical marijuana dispensaries was appropriate because of their similarities as potential targets -- both have large sums of cash and are often heavily fortified.
The statistics do not include crime at ATM machines, bank outlets in markets or crimes committed on the property surrounding banks or medical marijuana dispensaries.
He also acknowledged that banks report all their robberies to authorities, while some medical marijuana facilities may not.
"This is just a snapshot, a statistic. It doesn't reflect quality of life issues, it doesn't reflect the things the public complains about (regarding) medical marijuana locations," Beck said. "It does give you some idea of (what the) level of crime is."
Many community activists believe there is a connection between the growth of medical marijuana dispensaries and the rise of crime in their neighborhoods.
"We expect that to be the case, especially if they're not controlled and regulated properly," said J.J. Popowich president of the Winnetka Neighborhood Council, which boasts of having helped shut down a dispensary on Vanowen Street last year.
Popowich said he is not against the existence of medical marijuana dispensaries so long as they are tightly regulated and located outside residential communities.
A spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a statewide advocacy group for medical marijuana clinics, said his group does not believe claims linking dispensaries with increases in crime.
"The issue of whether they are magnets for crime is centered largely around exaggerated claims by law enforcement officials that excessive crime exists in the first place and these facilities are the source for it," said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes.
"Our own research in a number of cities has found quite the opposite to be true."
While Beck does not believe most dispensaries are magnets for crime, he does believe medical marijuana clinics should be subject to increased scrutiny and regulation.
He would like to see the number of clinics citywide limited to about 75. He also would like dispensaries to be required to disclose the names of their patients, although he said specific medical conditions could be withheld for privacy reasons.
Medical marijuana advocates oppose such disclosures.
"We're very concerned about local government's ability to have direct, unfettered access to patient records," Hermes said. "Allowing only access to names is better than allowing access to addresses, phone numbers and medical conditions. But even (turning over) names should not be done without a subpoena."
Beck said another statistic to be considered in the debate over medical marijuana dispensaries is that last year the LAPD served 39 search warrants at dispensaries and made 60 arrests, most for unlawful sales.
"The bottom line is that this all speaks to the fact (dispensaries) need to be regulated," he said. "That's why I support the (city) council coming up with their regulations."
The number of medical marijuana facilities in Los Angeles, and particularly the San Fernando Valley, has exploded since 2007. For months the City Council has been debating a new ordinance to restrict their locations near schools and homes. One possible proposal could eliminate most small dispensaries, leading to only a few "big-box" pot stores in isolated industrial areas.
Councilman Dennis Zine said the council has not fully completed drafting an ordinance but that the disclosure of medical marijuana dispensary members continues to be an issue.
"We know (there is) a lot of abuse," Zine said. "Everyone admits there is, even the dispensaries. We need to make sure there isn't abuse -- that the people who go (to dispensaries) aren't just using a ruse to get high.
"So we need some kind of verification of their membership and their legitimacy as clients."