Could Marijuana Dispensaries Reduce Crime in Neighborhoods?

The Journal of Urban Economics recently released a study suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries make surrounding neighborhoods safer. The first of its kind research was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine and their study concluded that the closure of a dispensary resulted in a 12% increase in neighborhood crime.

The researchers’ findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom 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 concluded their findings after poring over police arrest, property crime, and auto break-in reports that were filed in Los Angeles after the city ordered the closure of roughly 70% of the nearly 600 dispensaries that were operating in L.A. at that time.

If conventional wisdom holds true that marijuana dispensaries are magnets for crime then we would expect to see a decrease in crime once the dispensaries closed. What the researchers found was just the opposite.

Instead, Jacobson and her team 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.

With these statistics in hand we can see an immediate increase in crime around the dispensaries that were ordered to be closed versus the dispensaries that were allowed to stay open. The researchers concluded that “the increase [in crime] 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.”

This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time, that conventional wisdom is wrong. Dispensaries appear to positively impact the safety of neighborhoods, similarly in the same way restaurants and retail shops do. Property crime and robberies from cars were the most reported crimes committed by marijuana dispensaries and restaurant closures, the study said. This is most likely because these types of crimes are heavily deterred by frequent foot traffic. When restaurants and dispensaries reopened, crime was immediately reduced.

Also, dispensaries typically feature security cameras and security guards, which may help to deter crime. Some larger scale dispensaries even have their own force of armed guards patrolling their businesses 24 hours a day.

Researcher, Mireille Jacobson, states “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.”

We are facing a new world of possibilities with marijuana legalization. In an apparent sign of things to come, it appears that cities with marijuana dispensaries are not seeing any increase in crime rates through marijuana legalization, in fact, cities are seeing lower crime rates, and there are good reasons for that: with legalization we’re really beginning to cripple the criminal market, which is where violence actually occurs.

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