Conventional wisdom says marijuana dispensaries make neighborhoods less safe, but a new study from UC Irvine suggests the conventional wisdom is wrong and that crime increases after cities move to close pot shops.
“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 who studied the data with colleague Tom Chang. “But I feel comfortable saying it’s very unlikely that these places are crime magnets.”
Dispensaries seem to behave in this respect much like restaurants and other mainstream businesses, Jacobson said, helping to deter vehicle break-ins and other low-level crimes simply by putting more bystanders on the streets.
The study was intentionally narrow in its focus, examining the impact of widespread closures that took place on a single day in Los Angeles. So it couldn’t account for violent crimes such as murder or arson, according to Jacobson, since they aren’t common enough to show up in the window of time she and Chang analyzed.
The study also didn’t attempt to factor in how marijuana dispensaries might impact local quality of life – either for the better, by offering alternatives to addictive drugs such as opiates, or for the negative, by increasing problems such as loitering and traffic.
Future research on those areas is crucial before broad conclusions on how cannabis shops impact crime can be locked down, the report states.
But Jacobson hopes her study might lead to more fact-based policy discussions as California gets ready to launch recreational marijuana sales on Jan. 1.
Inspiration for the study goes back to 2010. Jacobson was living in Venice and noticed that dispensaries all over town were being shut down as Los Angeles attempted to rein in its massive medical marijuana market.
The talk at the time was largely about how these stores made neighborhoods less safe, with…