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Marijuana Dispensaries Make Neighborhoods Safer, Study Suggests

The study found that the closure of medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with an increase in neighborhood crimes rates.

A new study published in the Journal of Urban Economics suggests that medical marijuana dispensaries make the surrounding neighborhood safer. Researchers at University of California, Irvine found that the closure of dispensaries caused about a 12 percent increase in crime in the surrounding area.

The findings directly oppose the common misconception that cannabis dispensaries contribute to local crime.

“Given all the pretty strong rhetoric about dispensaries generating or at least attracting crime, it was not the result we expected,” said Mireille Jacobson, a health economics professor at UCI and one of the study’s authors. “But I feel comfortable saying it’s very unlikely that these places are crime magnets.”

The researchers – Jacobson and her research partner, Tom Y. Chang — analyzed the short-term mass closing of hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. In summer 2010, roughly 70 percent of the nearly 600 dispensaries operating in Los Angeles were ordered to close, as the Los Angeles Police Department blamed an increase in crime rate on the influx of cannabis shops.

“If these dispensaries truly were crime magnets, we’d expect to see a sharp decrease in crime when they shut down,” Jacobson told The Cannabist.

Instead, she and Chang specifically found an immediate increase in larceny, property crimes and auto break-ins in the areas where dispensaries were forced to close as compared to neighborhoods where dispensaries remained open. Within a third of a mile surrounding a closed dispensary, property crimes increased by 12 to 14 percent. At a fourth of a mile out, low-level crimes increased by 14 to 16 percent. Even closer in, at an eighth of a mile, crime jumped 23 to 24 percent once dispensaries closed.

“Contrary to popular wisdom, we find an immediate increase in crime around dispensaries ordered to close relative to those allowed to remain open,” the researchers concluded. “The increase is specific to the type of crime most plausibly deterred by bystanders, and is correlated with neighborhood walkability. … A likely … mechanism is that ‘eyes upon the street’ deter some types of crime.”

Dispensaries appear to positively impact the safety of neighborhoods similarly to restaurants and retail shops. Low-level crimes like vehicle break-ins drop because there are more pedestrians and other bystanders around. Also, dispensaries typically feature security cameras and security guards, which may help to deter crime.

“The connection between restaurants and [medical marijuana dispensaries] is that they both contribute to the ‘walkability score’ of a given area. Areas with higher scores have more ‘eyes upon the street’ a factor that is proven to deter some types of crimes,” Jacobson told Science Daily.

The study’s findings are consistent with those of prior studies. A study conducted in Denver by Marijuana Policy Project found that crime dropped by 8.2 percent after a dispensary opened in a neighborhood.

You can access the study, “Going to pot? The impact of dispensary closures on crime,” through ScienceDirect.

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Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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