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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries:
Taking a Bite Out of Crime?

A study by the RAND Corporation has found that medical marijuana dispensaries are associated with lower crime rates. Specifically, the study concluded that "Contrary to conventional wisdom, press accounts, and some statements by law enforcement, our analysis suggests that the closing of the medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with an increase-rather than the expected decrease-in local crime in a short-term ten-day period."

Los Angeles closed over 70% of the city's licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in June 2010. Using L.A. City Attorney data on the locations of dispensaries combined with detailed crime report data, RAND empirically assessed changes in crime rates in areas immediately around the dispensaries which were closed compared with those allowed to remain open.

The analysis found "crime increased almost 60 percent in the blocks surrounding closed clinics in the ten days following their closing."

According to the study, the effects of dispensary closures "are concentrated on crimes, such as assault and breaking and entering, that may be particularly sensitive to the presence of security. Incidents of breaking and entering increase by about 50 percent within four blocks, and assaults increase by about 90 percent after the dispensaries are closed." The effect of dispensary closures on crime diminished with distance, within "0.6 miles the increase is about 25 percent, and by 1.5 miles out there is no perceptible change in crime."

An official with the patients' rights watchdog Americans for Safe Access stated, "We have reached the same conclusions as RAND using a qualitative study of public officials with firsthand experience of how dispensaries reduce crime in their neighborhoods."

RAND conducted the study "to inform the debate on local approaches to regulating this market." The study noted that "U.S. Attorneys have sent letters to officials in at least ten states that have been trying to implement centrally regulated supply systems. These letters urge caution, reminding the governors and their legislatures that the federal government will 'vigorously' prosecute those involved in the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, even if they are in compliance with state law."

The District of Columbia has approved medical use of marijuana and is currently considering dispensary licensing issues. Both the DC government and the Department of Justice may want to consider the RAND study when deciding on their next moves.

See Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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