It’s time for the second installment of our new Cannabuzz series Prohibition Arguments, Cannalyzed™, in which I examine cases made by cannabis prohibitionists, refute them with facts and opinions, and am rewarded by angry emails and comments from aforementioned prohibitionists telling me what a stupid, useless stoner I am. Serenity now.
ARGUMENT: Cannabis dispensaries attract crime to the surrounding neighborhood.
I’m not really sure how this came to be an argument. If it was “opium dens attract crime,” I might agree. But—and this is an important distinction that some prohibitionists don’t make, bless their hearts—dispensaries are not anything like opium dens, or crack houses, or meth mini-malls, or heroin hideaways.
Let’s look at three recent studies about cannabis and crime. (I am indebted to the website Marijuana Moment and their coverage and analysis of these studies.)
Cannabis dispensaries are extremely regulated, and they have more cameras than you’ll find anywhere outside of a Kardashian set, with multiple locks, gates, and other security measures. Employees check the ID of everyone who comes in. The interiors are extremely well lit. Your local neighborhood dispensary may well be the safest building on the block, and research shows that having them take over a formerly vacant storefront also reduces crime.
Now, much like banks, dispensaries can be a target for some (really stupid) thieves. That’s because banking regulations exclude dispensaries, growers, and other cannabis industry players from having bank accounts, resulting in them sometimes having to keep large amounts of cash on site. But robberies are a rarity.
As reported by Marijuana Moment, in May, the RAND think tank published a study via the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) that looked at dispensary laws on crime in California. It examined 58 different California counties, including those where dispensaries had opened going back to 1996, when California’s medical marijuana program began. They then looked at violent and property crimes in those same counties over that same time span.
Their conclusions? “We find no significant impact of dispensaries on violent crime in any of our models.... For property crimes, we see no effect from adopting dispensaries in the model excluding county-specific time trends.” Some of their research models actually showed a decrease in property crimes of between 5.1 to 6.3 percent in counties that did allow dispensaries. They concluded that “dispensaries help reduce crime by reducing vacant buildings and putting more security in these areas.”
How does this compare to stores selling alcohol and tobacco? Our trusted friends at Marijuana Moment report that a group of university researchers, funded by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, wondered that same thing. Those researchers released a study that looked at three types of businesses in South Central Los Angeles—medical cannabis dispensaries, tobacco stores, and liquor stores. (The report noted that South Central is a “large, high-crime, low-income urban community of color,” which really only seems notable if a prohibitionist argument-maker also may have certain um, ideas, about race and crime.)
The study found that violent crime and property crime increased substantially within multiple measured distances from the stores that sold either tobacco or alcohol exclusively. The areas around medical dispensaries, on the other hand, did not see an increase in crime rates. The report concluded, “Tobacco shops may constitute public health threats that associate with crime and violence in US low-income urban communities of color.”
Okay. But don’t these dispensaries put a burden on law enforcement? Wouldn’t you know—it turns out the cops, newly unburdened from pursuing pot-related crimes in post-legalization states, use their freed-up time to solve actual crimes.
One of the least sought-out journals in my circles, Police Quarterly, published a study that looked at violent and property crime clearance rates in Washington and Colorado since recreational cannabis was legalized. (The “clearance rate” is the formula that determines the percentage of reported crimes that have been wrapped up by an arrest. A high clearance rate is a good thing.) Their conclusion? From Marijuana Moment’s analysis: “While our results cannot specifically explain why police clearance rates have increased in Colorado and Washington, we think the argument that legalization did in fact produce a measurable impact on clearance rates is plausible.... Our models show no negative effects of legalization and, instead, indicate that crime clearance rates for at least some types of crime are increasing faster in states that legalized than in those that did not.”
Dispensaries create jobs, raise city and state tax revenue, and strengthen communities by occupying vacant retail spaces. Some dispensaries make charitable contributions to local nonprofits by donating a portion of their sales. The evidence is clear: Dispensaries do not cause an increase in crime.