A new study by the RAND Corporation takes a look at the effect of the recent closure of numerous Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries. Opponents of dispensaries, most notably law enforcement, have long argued that marijuana dispensaries increase crime in their neighborhoods. However, the data revealed by RAND today shows the opposite:
(Los Angeles Times) In a study of crime near Los Angeles dispensaries — which the investigators call the most rigorous independent examination of its kind — the Santa Monica-based think tank found that crime actually increased near hundreds of pot shops after they were required to close last summer.
Police have been desperate to show the public that acceptance of marijuana commerce leads to greater crime and danger. In Los Angeles, the “pot shops cause crime” mantra was a subject of a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Summit on the Impact of California’s Medical Marijuana Laws – Dispensary Related Crime” delivered by Cmdr. Michael Regan to over 400 law enforcement officers attending in July 2009. Regan’s slides (download here) included such terrifying claims as:
- “Worse than combining a liquor store and a casino – lots of cash, lots of guns”
- “…a CHP officer was paralyzed by a marijuana impaired driver.”
- “…a group of suspects entered the dispensary, tied everyone up and robbed the place of about $50,000.”
- “…a masked gunman fired four shots into a dispensary worker’s car as he pulled into the parking lot.”
- “…one of the club’s customers was ambushed, robbed for his marijuana and killed at a nearby gas station.”
- “Crimes related to dispensaries may not be associated or recorded as such.”
Yet even as these individual anecdotes were sensationalized in this 2009 presentation, just two months earlier the LA crime statistics reported by the LA Times told a different story:
[Crime is d]ramatically down. And here in Los Angeles, the drop is particularly stunning. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, compared with the same period in 2008, homicide is down by 32%; rape 12%; robbery 3%; burglary 6%, and grand theft auto a shocking 18%.
Similar “crime magnet” arguments have been floated by police in Northern California as well. Back in 2010, Capt. Denise Schmidt wrote a letter to the San Francisco planning department, arguing:
[Dispensaries] have proven an attractive target for violent criminals due to the large amount of marijuana and cash maintained on site. Dispensaries have experienced take-over robberies, burglaries, shootings, stabbings, fights and homicides. Additionally, criminals target the pedestrian traffic in and around [dispensaries] for strong-arm and armed robberies, knowing that the potential for these victims to be carrying either cash and or marijuana is highly likely.
But when Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus asked the SFPD to back up those claims with data from the state’s COMPSTAT system that tracks crime by neighborhood, suddenly SF Police Chief George Gascon wasn’t so eager to mine the data.
LA Police Chief Charlie Beck wasn’t as reluctant as Chief Gascon to admit that dispensaries weren’t “crime magnets”. Back in January of 2010, Beck told the Los Angeles Daily News:
“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.
The fact is that dispensaries revitalize neighborhoods, install security cameras, increase foot traffic, provide jobs, and inject revenue into the local economy – all actions that any undergraduate social scientist can tell you will help reduce crime. Similar studies of dispensary operations in Denver and Colorado Springs have also shown no correlation between dispensary operations and crime.
But to the police, the sales and use of the marijuana itself is something they consider criminal. In defending the “pot shops are crime magnets” bogeyman, the cops (with a straight face, even,) blame the increase in crime upon closing a dispensary on “infighting among collective members, increased traffic for pot fire sales and customers disgruntled to find their dispensary closed.” Or, in other words, as the RAND report points out, the police action of shutting down dispensaries increases crime!
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, strenuously disagreed with the report’s conclusions.
“Every time we shut down a dispensary, the crime and the disorder decrease,” he said.
The report looks at such crimes as thefts and assaults, but not “disorder,” nuisances such as loitering, double parking, loud noises and graffiti that sparked anger among neighborhood activists. Whitmore said those complaints are often what causes the department to act.
So you shut down a dispensary and there is allegedly less graffiti and double parking, but there is actually a 59% increase in thefts and assaults in a three block radius? Not a very good trade, if you ask me. In fact, these “nuisances” are often exaggerated reports by neighbors who, like the cops, cling to the prohibition of marijuana and the demonization of those who consume it and jump on any excuse to send the cops in:
“Our main concern is the crime of illegal dispensaries illegally selling marijuana,” [Michael Larsen, president of the neighborhood council] said. “That’s the crime that we’re concerned about.”
The simple truth is that in California and Colorado and all the other medical marijuana states, we have 1.5 million consumers protected from prosecution for the possession of cannabis. Absent a visit from “the weed fairy”, however, these consumers have to find a supplier for their state-sanctioned medicine. That can be a well-regulated, well-lit, adults-only, secure, taxpaying facility that creates jobs, revitalizes neighborhoods, and reduces crime… or it can be a drug dealer in the corner of a city park, a public parking lot, or a run-down apartment who doesn’t check IDs, doesn’t care about doctor’s recommendations, and has no quality or safety standards for cannabis medicine. Which do you think leads to more crime?
P.S. Law enforcement seemed to think RAND Corp’s studies were reliable when they were saying Prop 19 legalization wouldn’t dramatically impact the profitability of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.