Study: Crime Rises When Pot Dispensaries Close

Los Angeles County officials dispute the Rand Corp. study's findings. Here in Hermosa Beach, dispensaries are prohibited under city law.

Debate surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries and their place in the Los Angeles region has yet to burn out—and while Hermosa Beach prohibits such dispensaries from opening in town under municipal code, a new study from the Rand Corp. finds that arguments linking crime and medical marijuana facilities are ill founded.

Researchers studied crime before and after dispensaries were shut down in Los Angeles, according to the study, which was released Wednesday.

They found that in the blocks where dispensaries closed, reports of crime were nearly 60 percent greater than comparable blocks where dispensaries remained open.

"If medical marijuana dispensaries are causing crime, then there should be a drop in crime when they close," said Mireille Jacobson, the study's lead author and a senior economist at Rand, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group, in a statement. "Individual dispensaries may attract crime or create a neighborhood nuisance, but we found no evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries in general cause crime to rise."

Researchers predicted that the crime detected near closed dispensaries might have been caused by "a loss of foot traffic, a resurgence in outdoor drug activity, a change in police efforts such as fewer nearby patrols or a loss of the on-site security provided by dispensaries."

The researchers examined crime reports for the 10 days prior to and the 10 days following June 7, 2010, when the Los Angeles city officials ordered more than 70 percent of the 638 medical marijuana dispensaries in the area to close.

Now Los Angeles city and county officials are disputing the claims made in the Rand study.

Detective Robert Holcomb of the Los Angeles Police Department's Narcotics Enforcement Detail in the San Fernando Valley told the Daily News that dispensaries "are a center for crime... Look at it from a criminal standpoint: Here is a location that you know contains narcotics, money—so what better location to rob?"

Frank Mateljan, spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, added, "The study is the polar opposite of a scientific and measured response to verified data. It relies exclusively upon faulty assumptions, conjecture, irrelevant data, untested measurements and incomplete results. The conclusions are therefore highly suspect and unreliable."

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, also disagreed with the report's conclusions. "Every time we shut down a dispensary, the crime and the disorder decrease," he said, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

California law allows qualified patients and caregivers "to use, possess and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes without criminal prosecution" in the state.

Rand researchers said in their study that its findings should be interpreted "cautiously" since they studied a relatively short period of time, resulting in a high margin of error.

"But the study may help inform decisions being made by local and state officials about how to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries," according to Rand.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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