Study: Medical pot dispensaries don't boost local crime
September 20, 2011
Josh Richman, San Jose Mercury NewsA new study casts doubt on many law enforcement agencies' assertion that medical marijuana dispensaries contribute to local street crime. In fact, minor crime rises markedly in surrounding neighborhoods when dispensaries close, at least over the short term, according to a study released Tuesday by the nonpartisan RAND Corp.
"Overall crime increased almost 60 percent in the blocks surrounding closed clinics in the 10 days following their closing," the study said.
Researchers studied crime before and after a large number of dispensaries were shut in Los Angeles and found that incidents, such as break-ins, rose near the closed dispensaries when compared to neighborhoods where dispensaries remained open.
The study suggested several theories for what might drive these results, including the loss of on-site security and surveillance, a reduction in foot traffic, a resurgence in outdoor drug activity and a change in police efforts.
Steph Sherer, executive director of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, said her organization has reached the same conclusions, but "law enforcement has largely ignored or refuted these findings" as various cities have closed dispensaries, put a moratorium on new ones or banned them altogether.
"Dispensary regulations bring greater oversight and less crime to local communities," she said.
The California Police Chiefs Association in 2009 issued a white paper on marijuana dispensaries that provided anecdotal evidence to back its claim that they "attract or cause numerous ancillary social problems as byproducts of their operation," the most glaring of which "are other criminal acts."
The association declined to comment Tuesday on the RAND study; the California Narcotic Officers' Association did not return a call for comment.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith hadn't seen the study so wasn't able to discuss it in detail, saying, "We do know that there have been many reported crimes at these medical marijuana facilities, including burglaries, robberies and even murder, but we haven't seen their analysis of the crimes around them, so we can't comment."
The RAND researchers looked at crime data for 10 days before and 10 days after the June 7, 2010, closures of 430 dispensaries in Los Angeles. Researchers combined the data with information from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office on the exact locations of dispensaries that were either subject to closure or allowed to remain open. They analyzed crime reports within 0.3, 0.6, 1.5, and 3 miles of dispensaries that closed and compared the results to crime in neighborhoods where dispensaries remained open. In all, they looked at 21 days of crime reports for 600 dispensaries -- 170 that remained open and 430 that closed.
The San Jose City Council last week decided to allow only 10 dispensaries, ending nearly two years of debate as nearly 12 dozen dispensaries spread across the city.
"What we've experienced here in a lot of our dispensaries is not an increase or decrease in or around the area where the dispensary is, it's the actual dispensary that's being victimized" including armed takeovers, San Jose police spokesman Sgt. Jason Dwyer said Tuesday.
Although this is an interesting report from a credible source, he said, "I think the key is that further research is necessary. ... These are the types of things you need to study over a long period of time."