RAND Buckles to Political Pressure on Medical Marijuana
October 12, 2011 | Kris Hermes
A Los Angeles-based study issued less than a month ago by the RAND Corporation, which analyzed levels of crime around the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries, has been pulled as a result of political pressure. Warren Robak of the media relations department at RAND recently said:
We took a fresh look at the study based in part upon questions raised by some folks following publication.
One of the loudest voices to question the RAND study was staunch medical marijuana opponent, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. RAND said that:
The L.A. City Attorney’s Office has been the organization most vocal in its criticism of the study.
Indeed, in media interviews the City Attorney’s Office called the report’s conclusions “highly suspect and unreliable,” claiming that they were based on “faulty assumptions, conjecture, irrelevant data, untested measurements and incomplete results.”
Evidence of the influence and pressure of “politics” over “science” is no starker than this.
On September 20, RAND issued a study that analyzed crime data from more than a year ago. According to a statement from RAND, the study “examined crime reports for the 10 days prior to and the 10 days following June 7, 2010, when the city of Los Angeles ordered more than 70 percent of the city’s 638 medical marijuana dispensaries to close.” Researchers analyzed crime reports within a few blocks around dispensaries that closed and compared that to crime reports for neighborhoods where dispensaries remained open. In total, RAND said that, “researchers examined 21 days of crime reports for 600 dispensaries in Los Angeles County -- 170 dispensaries remained open while 430 were ordered to close.”
If that doesn’t seem thorough and “to-the-point” enough, RAND senior economist and lead author of the study Mireille Jacobson concluded that:
[RAND] found no evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries in general cause crime to rise.
Notably, this conclusion directly contradicted the claims of medical marijuana opponents such as Trutanich.
However, this is not the first time politics has trumped science with regard to medical marijuana. There has been a long history of this in the United States. One of the more recent examples occurred only a few months ago when the National Cancer Institute (NCI) revised its website on medical cannabis after being pressured by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a federal agency which is responsible for obstructing meaningful research into medical marijuana. After adding cannabis to the list of Complementary Alternative Medicines (CAM) and recognizing the plant’s therapeutic qualities, NCI was urged to revise its statements. As a result, references to research indicating that cannabis may be helpful in subduing cancer growth were removed.
Although RAND called its study “the first systematic analysis of the link between medical marijuana dispensaries and crime,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck previously conducted his own study a year earlier. Chief Beck compared the levels of crime at the city’s banks with those around its medical marijuana dispensaries. Beck found that 71 robberies had occurred at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to 47 robberies at the more than 500 medical marijuana facilities. Beck at the time concluded that, “banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,” and that the prevalent law enforcement claim of dispensaries inherently attracting crime “doesn't really bear out.”
The RAND study also affirmed what Americans for Safe Access (ASA) had already concluded by way of qualitative research, that crime is normalized or reduced in areas near medical marijuana dispensaries. Numerous public officials interviewed by ASA stated in a report re-issued last year that by regulating dispensaries their communities were made safer.
When will objective science on medical marijuana be honestly and thoroughly considered without the intrusion and constraints of politics? As a decades-old institution, RAND should stand by its research and not buckle to political pressure.