Prohibition-addicted police can't believe closing medical marijuana dispensaries INCREASES crime

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.

33 thoughts

  1. They can’t ignore us anymore can they? I mean they have to address this on the news right?
    I really don’t know what it’s going to take to get the right kind of attention. I am as frustrated as ever. We are soooooo close, yet “they” still hold all the cards.
    I’m still unsure why we cannot get all factions of the legalization movement to say “Drug use is a personal choice”. We accept this logic for alcohol, so why is it so preposterous when suggested for cannabis?
    /boggle ON
    [Paul Armentano responds: The mainstream media, including the AP, LA Times, Washington Post, etc., are prominently covering this story today.]

  2. I heard on KNX radio out of, Los Angeles yesterday that crime decreased particularly murders in California .Then they said this was due to an increasing police presence ( police are being ” let – go ” because the State is broke )and then they said that this was due to longer prison terms ( the Governor ordered release of 35,000 prisoners to reduce overcrowding due to our cash strapped budget).In fact they will tell you everything but the truth . Who wants to get violent while medicating on Marijuana ?
    I also spoke out about a guy in, Humboldt County named, Ron Kuhnel who boosts about his liking for beer & whose belly hits the moon ( he said he just ” tastes beer ” ) who was not only running for City council but was doing everything he could to limit the amount of medical Marijuana dispensaries in and around
    Eureka .
    Here’s what i said,
    Since , Ron Kuhnel worked hard to limit the number of Marijuana dispensaries in & around , Eureka i have a suggestion that makes even more sense . Limit by reducing the amount of stores that sells or promotes the sale of alcohol , tobacco & pharmaceuticals .
    Examples : Grocery stores ,Pharmacies , Restaurants , liquor stores and anyone that sells / pushes alcoholic beverages , drugs & cigarettes . After all there are
    more murders ,suicides , DUI’S ,family & spousal abuse ,assaults , robberies and misc. crime in a single 48 hour period in just Los Angeles County alone by the sales of alcohol , legal drugs & tobacco than what would probally occur in 5 years in the entire State of California from sells of Marijuana at these dispensaries .
    It wasn’t long ago in Eureka there were two armed robberies at Pharmacies over Oxycotin ( See ; The Times standard ) yet these same Pharmacies sell a ” Marijuana drug testing Kit ” . Great deception , huh ?
    So , Ron ,when you sober up you’ll really make some sense when you cut down or eliminate pharmacies , grocery stores , liquor stores & restaurants since those are the real culprits in reducing our high crime rate .
    Guess what ?
    He lost the race .

  3. So by these cops reasoning we shouldn’t have banks because they cause too much crime? As a matter of fact it isn’t necessarily the drugs that people are killing people over it’s the fact they are worth a lot of money.
    People kill and rob over money every day so let’s just get to the root and make money illegal.

  4. Its almost kind of entertaining as well as, outraging to a point, but more of a “nuisance” to see how almost childish the reactions are coming from the people in power who are suppose to make choices with the publics best interest in mind. It seems no different from a kid in middle school getting made fun of and tantalized for simply saying the right answer in class ( personally I’ve been in said situation and its actually funny to watch the attempts of someone who doesnt know the correct answer, find any excuse they can (possibly not even related to the subject) to make the person who stands up for the right answer feel bad about standing up in the first place.) which brings a conformitable reasoning to both sides..fear. The opposing side is in fear of change, or maybe simply just affraid to lose their perceptionalized point of power over the classroom or in this case the public. Whilst the other side, who goes by the numbers and speaks their answers out of statistic thought, is in fear of ridicule, harm, and especially…punishment. There will always be consequences both good and bad to every choice made no matter what the choice is, or the intent behind the choice, but to simply punish the public for something statistically proven to be better for their safety and well being, is no more hypocritical than verbally making fun of somebody for being smart in class, just because they know the answer and the others of ignorance do not….They say money is basically the reason for the robberies of medical marijuana and their dispensaries, but is money not the reason for the government’s attempts at shutting down dispensaries?….Its always amusing to me how the more power you have, the more you start to rely, and revolve your world around something as common as green paper money that is theoretically worthless untill you actually spend it on something. Apparently money outweighs life and wellness in this day and age which should be a crime in itself, therefor, the ones with the most money who dont do anything progressive or unselfish with it, are in my eyes just as guilty of this should be crime as the ones who are willing to steal and cause harm just to hopefully accquire money without getting caught….A wise man once said, “Do not point fingers untill you make sure your own hands are clean.”

  5. More shoot-outs with police whereby the shooters/non-cops have heavy duty body armor and armor-piercing rounds in lots of automatic weapons, gunning down cops left and right at will…
    Hm, why don’t they just invite the Mexican drug cartels to expand their war into L.A.?

  6. Great article, this is very a very encouraging statistic generated by a very discouraging situation.
    I can’t help but wonder if the gun violence caused by Prohibition might not make unusual bedfellows of NORML and the NRA. The biggest enemy the NRA has is the liberal left, however, the liberal left is a bastion of support for our cause.
    I know it will get me hate mail, but I am an NRA life member. I joined when the Clinton regime was after my rights to keep and bear arms. I do not agree with many of the NRA’s policies, or current stances on some issues, but I understand the true importance of the 2nd Amendment.
    I’m out of work right now, or I’d be a NORML member too! Give me a month or two.
    Without the crime statistics to support the gun grabs, the NRA’s largest headache goes away. With the NRA’s lobbying power, Prohibition could go away.
    The biggest hurdles to making this alliance, as I see them, are the advertisers found in NRA magazines, arms manufacturers, like the war on drugs as it keeps sales up. And on our side of the fight, many of our people are rabid anti-NRA people, for reasons that are important to them, and respected by me, though I do not agree.
    If we can manage to forge this unlikely alliance, we will win in 2012. Perhaps we should send in LEAP?
    [Russ responds: I grew up in Idaho and first fired a .22 rifle when I was eight years old. I completed hunter education by age 12 (though I’ve never hunted) and handled firearms from M-16s to M-60s in the National Guard. I have long argued that the NRA, if it is serious about the Second Amendment, should be vocally opposing the War on (Certain American Citizens Using Non-Pharmaceutical, Non-Alcoholic, Tobacco-Free) Drugs. Alas, since marijuana is an “illegal drug”, the NRA has no sympathy for “felons” who lose their Constitutional firearm rights for convictions of growing a plant.]

  7. So when law enforcement, like in California, can’t prosecute medical cannabis collectives and operators do they go and give a ring to their great friends over at the Fed government?

  8. Make cigarettes illegal. I dare you. The entire tobacco market would be driven underground and we’d see addicts rummaging, and robbing, the streets for their fix of a $50 pack of cigarettes. Filthy animal law makers!

  9. I just heard about the police beating of a homeless man in los Angeles. How sick can the cops get? more crime? How much longer are the American people going to put up with this shit?

  10. As long as the police (DEA) are the gatekeepers of medical research, and as long as the vast majority of Americans are ignorant of that fact, nothing will change.
    There is a blatant conflict of interest when the people (DEA) who’s jobs depend on maintaing prohibition are the same people who hold the authority to maintain prohibition!
    And it’s absurd to ask police (DEA again) to determine whether medical research may or may not be conducted!
    Thank Nixon instituting this insane system, and thank Obama for upholding it.

  11. It has been told for decades, and until this “War on Ourselves” ends, it will be said again. Too many of our like minded individuals have grown apathetic towards voting. If everyone that believed marijuana is harmless would vote, we could dump this sad lot of politicians and start over. Gary Johnson for President!! The truth is out there, don’t look the other way.

  12. I live on the east coast and i hear how corrupt the L.A.P.D. is. I WOULD NOT believe a word they say or pay other corporations to say! LIES LIES LIES.

  13. I suppose if I were making over a 100K being a cop I’d be anti-fact too. Next time I have to call 911 I’m calling my doctor. Fuck da police.

  14. I agree with comment 13. Who will watch the watchers? Themselves? The obvious truth is the government institution is a parasite and the status quo feeds that existence.

  15. Based on my personal experiences with law enforcement personnel, I, long ago, came to the conclusion that there are a few good cops! Seriously, they’re not all bad! But, I think that most of them are ignorant, arrogant, biased, and act like bullies.
    That said, most of them should be fired!

  16. Gee, i did not know you heard about all the Police corruption in Los Angeles . I live in, Santa Barbara and it’s even more corrupt here than L.A. As an example i was parked while my car was running waiting for my 12 year old daughter in a yellow loading zone . There wasn’t a car behind me or in front of me and i was given a ticket for impeding the flow of traffic . The Judges are just as corrupt as the Police here because when i stated the truth in Court the Judge said i was guilty, anyways .
    Then we got a cop named, Kasi Beutel who exagerrated blood levels of alcohol in order to make D.U.I.
    arrests .She did this to tens or even hundreds of drivers ruining their lives .She even had pre written D.U.I. arrest forms pre – filled out with results from field sobriety tests that proved the driver(s) drunk . You can’t fight your word against the Police here because the Judges are just as corrupt as the City .
    On another instance a homeless guy who was smoking a joint on the sidewalk was arrested by her .Not for smoking weed but for ” as she said ” being aggressive
    while panhandling . She didn’t know it but the whole incident was filmed & he was not at all being aggressive nor was he panhandling. She arrested him simply because he was homeless in order to make herself look good .

  17. Here’s more on this Cop…
    I’ve since learned after taking a Taxi from downtown Santa Barbara from the cab driver that the City of Santa Barbara has put time limits in Taxi zones & has failed to provide Taxi stands in areas that will benefit cabbies . He said that the City has intentionally this so the cabbies have no where to park . This way they have no choice but to pick up passengers illegally & get cited which generates ( as he stated ) money for the City government .
    They also placed signs of no parking during designated times of so – called Street sweeping to generate income for the corrupted Mayor when there was actually no Street sweeping . It started out as a two week trial for Street sweeping & they put up the no parking signs but after the Street sweeping stopped they kept the signs up anyways in order to issue citations to generate money for the City of Santa Barbara .
    I thank – NORML for allowing me to publish these things .

  18. Off-topic, but trying to get the word out.
    Decided to create a petition at We the People (White House site) to shed light on government obfuscation of unsound drug policy:
    Thanks for checking it out.

  19. I hadn’t heard about the “weed fairy” before.
    I’ve actually enjoyed some of the demonizing attempts through the years. Remember when weed was “psychologically addicting”. You don’t hear it anymore. I assume, because everybody eventually realized that even something like television is also psychologically addicting.
    Remember when weed users were “in denial” about their drug use. These cops are “in denial” when it comes to marijuana. They already know the truth, so there. Don’t confuse them with the facts.
    I see this as part of a larger movement to ignore science for short term political reasons, and it costs us all dearly. Ultimately, we will loose our status as a superpower. As we said in my day, bummer.

  20. I seen some very nice comments above, and would like to add to the fire so to speak. Part of the reason we are so “brainwashed” or “Sheeple” is in our schooling. I link an article from a Valedictorian- Erica Goldson –
    I urge anyone of you with an open mind, and from what ive seen all of us here do, to read this, he live speach is also on youtube. This is one of our major flaws as a “superpower” and in the same right part of what made us that superpower. Compare to Germany under the rule of Hitler and training kids to be soldiers at a young age. We are feeding into the same sociological and mental leash. We sit idle and wait for something to happen. We need to vocalize these points of intrest while fighting for our plant. It all goes hand in hand, Do we just want legal pot? Or do we want a better life for that of our children. Schools who feed into learning and not repetition, who influence our children to be great thinkers and inventors, not just a massive work force who takes whats handed to them?

  21. I’m sad to say that the Petition to Grant a Full Pardon to all those arrested for marijuana only related offenses isn’t getting the attention it deserves. While I’ve seen a dramatic flux of people rushing to sign the Regulate and Tax in a Manner similar to Alcohol petition (and am very happy to see the number rise greatly every time I look in on it), I’d like to see more people standing up for the folks who have put there lives and liberty on the line for the cause. After all, SOMEONE HAD TO GROW THAT BEAUTIFUL HERB YOU’RE ENJOYING AND NOW THEY NEED US. To those of you who have taken the time to add your name, I’m very grateful. Thank you for understanding you have a civic duty and doing that duty in true patriotic fashion. For those of you still sitting on your hands I’d like to remind you that NEVER in the history of our nation has it been so SIMPLE and EASY to make your voice heard. So stand up and take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.
    Please take a moment to follow this link and sign the petition which requests that all those arrested for marijuana only related offenses to be granted a full pardon. In addition to releasing those currently incarcerated, this would also reinstate the rights lost by those with previous convictions, such as the right to vote. Here’s the link: Thanks for your support.
    In addition, there is also a petition on the site which calls to Allow Industrial Hemp to AGAIN be grown in the U.S. This, too, is a very important issue within the legalization movement and approaches the subject from a perspective entirely separate from the medical/recreational aspect. Please also take a moment to add your name to show your support.
    Again, thank you for standing up and doing your part. After all, a government of the people, for the people, and by the people only works if the people work it. Signing a petition is a dramatic far cry from the long marches and bloody battles our ancestors had to endure to gain the freedoms we (used to) enjoy. If you’re too lazy to exert such little effort for liberty then you don’t deserve it!

  22. To Christopher:
    Thank you for posting that link. I feel enlightened just having read it. I’ve believe every word of that since I was a student myself, many years ago, though I’ve never seen it put so eloquently. That kid should get an award…, and probably, someday will,… like the Pulitzer.

  23. I’ve been on a quest to to educate myself. With a open mind Ive read articals from both law enforcement and the medical marijuana supporters. I am a medical marijuana pateint who has asserted from the beginning that law enforcement has been wageing its own agenda to force the closing of dispensories in Michigan. This movement (In Michigan) seems to be driven by an Attorny General who ignores fact.
    Apperently, We have problems with medical marijuan ending up in our schools, churches and on our playgrounds. Not to mention a increase in our crime rate. The only artical I’ve come accross that has even addressed statistical comparision between crime levels in or near dispensories has been this one. I’ll continue looking but so far this artical confirms my beleifs.
    When I’m high, the last thing on my mind is to Kill someone. Not to mention the fact that I’m to lazy to commit robbory, rape or beatting someone. With the exsistance of dispensories the worries of where I’ll get my meds isn’t even an issue. I don’t get it, where’s the harm. My life is already F_ _ked.

  24. I’m an American long term resident of Japan. I grow my own pot here and it is a dangerous endeavor, let me tell you. The Japanese, in general, have little experience with cannabis and tend to view it along the same line as heroin. The penalties are very harsh for an arrest. I’ve seen articles about people being arrested for as little as .01g.
    From what I understand, cannabis prohibition laws were installed in Japan by the Americans during the American occupation after WW2. Long after America, with it’s traditions of challenging authority and holding government to account, throws off if it’s prohibition bonds, cannabis will still be illegal here. Thank you America. I would like American anti-prohibitionists to pause for a moment and reflect on all the other countries of the world that have been coerced or forced into installing American drug policies and how once cannabis legalization is achieved in America those same Americans might look outward and consider what they can do to improve the situation on a world-wide scale.
    Amending or repealing the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs might be a good place to start.

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