Why Regulated Dispensaries Should be Welcomed, not Worrisome, in DC and throughout the Nation

Last week, two Washington, D.C. Area Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) voted unanimously in support of dispensary permit applicants who received provisionally sufficient scores by the District Department of Health to operate in their neighborhoods. Two additional medical cannabis dispensary applicants will have their applications considered at ANC meetings later in May. Some in these neighborhoods have expressed fear over negative perceptions about what medical cannabis dispensaries mean in terms of community impact; however, the best evidence available suggests that dispensaries are a benefit, not a risk, to public safety.

Whenever the Unknown Enters your Community, it’s Natural to Worry About the Impact 
The worry of some District residents (as well as those in each state that adopts a new medical cannabis law) of dispensaries coming into their community is natural. For those who are concerned, the reality is actually different than the fears. As research by UCLA concludes (PDF), dispensaries are actually wonderful neighbors because crime is reduced in areas surrounding well-regulated dispensaries, regardless of the existing crime level prior to the dispensary’s arrival. More specifically, “Dispensaries with security cameras and signs requiring a [patient registration identification] card had significantly lower levels of violence within 100 and 250 feet.”

What Public Officials Have to Say About Well-Regulated Dispensaries
Americans for Safe Access has prepared a white paper with testimonials from lawmakers, police chiefs and other municipal officials (PDF) from locations where medical cannabis dispensaries have been implemented and are well-regulated. Sebastopol CA Police Chief Jeffrey Weaver reported, "We've had no increased crime associated [with Sebastopol's medical cannabis dispensary], no fights, no loitering, no increase in graffiti, no increase in littering, zip." In much larger Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck observed that, "banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries," and that the claim that dispensaries attract crime "doesn't really bear out." Concerning community fear of the unknown, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos noted, "The parade of horrors that everyone predicted has not materialized."

D.C.’s Public Safety Dispensary Regulations are Among the Strictest in the County
The District of Columbia’s regulations have very stringent dispensary security requirements compared to any existing state regulations, which can be found here on pages 72-80 (DOC). In addition to the high security standards, ASA’s white paper highlights the fact that very few people - only those with appropriate registration cards - will be allowed to enter dispensaries, and that there are criminal penalties for those who sell or even give away medical cannabis acquired from a dispensary.

The instinct of community residents to want to preserve and promote public safety in their neighborhoods is laudable. Residents with that goal should be open to the best evidence available about public safety. When it comes to medical cannabis dispensaries, their impact on community public safety ought to be welcome, not a cause for alarm.

Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director. Read ASA's complete white paper on DC's regulations and dispensary safety (PDF).