RAND Study: Closing Pot Dispensaries Leads to Increase in Crime

As if every day doesn’t already bring us more reasons to thank Gen. Curtis LeMay, a new RAND Corporation study reaches the highly expected conclusion that neighborhoods suffer increases in crime when they drive away business. 

In this case, the business is medical cannabis. The peer-reviewed report “Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries: An Overview with Preliminary Evidence of Their Impact on Crime” [pdf] examines the experience of Los Angeles after the city closed more than 400 of its 638 pot shops in June of last year.

While the report neglected the mass closing’s stimulus for makers of “For Lease” signs, it did look at how the anti-dispensary sweep, which was championed by the local print media, affected (or coincided with) crime rates:  

The difference-in-differences estimates indicate that crime actually increases in the neighborhood (0.3 to 0.6 of a mile) around dispensaries that closed compared with those that remained open.27 Specifically, we find that total crime increases by about 60 percent within 0.3 miles of a closure relative to 0.3 miles around an open dispensary.28 The effect diminishes 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. The effects 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. While these results are statistically significant and imply very large increases in crime, our confidence intervals are quite wide, so the estimated increase should be interpreted with some caution.29

The report responds in large part to hysterical anti-dispensary newspaper reporting by the Los Angeles Times and the LA Weekly – the last names of whose reporters John Hoeffel and Dennis Romero each appear more often in the report than either “Hollywood” or “Venice,” the areas of town where closings have been concentrated. 

In his own report on the report, Hoeffel devotes 12 paragraphs to rebuttals from police, sheriff’s deputies, the city attorney’s office and NIMBYs, but only three paragraphs to comments from operators of dispensaries or their lawyers, and only seven paragraphs to the findings of the report itself. 

The rebuttals are less than persuasive because they seek to convince you of an absurdity: that the forced closing of a thriving business does not have a negative effect on a local area. Why isn't the L.A. Times this open to heterodoxy when repeating the old canard about how foreclosures cause crime to increase in a neighborhood?

RAND speculates that the loss of security cameras, lights, security personnel and other accoutrements of functioning retail business contributes to the loss of security in areas hit by pot shop closings. The City of Angels is already rich in vacant storefront property. If there's some reason not to presume that artificially adding to those vacancies lowers the city's quality of life, neither the Times reporters nor their establishment sources have discovered it. 

Brian Doherty, the Frederick Jackson Turner of Reason, marked the end of the era when L.A. was the Wild West of Weed in his cover story "L.A.'s Pot Revolution." 

Later, California voters rejected Proposition 19 and lost a chance to make all these cooked-up problems of crime, licensing, quality of life and false scarcity disappear at once by legalizing marijuana fully. Doherty urged optimism in another classic cover story. 

More Reason reporting on:

L.A. medical pot raids in 2009, 

the L.A. district attorney's declaration of war on dispensaries, 

the beginning of the end of the thriving dispensary economy, 

the Weekly's fact-free crusade against dispensaries, 

and a video report on another raid this year: 

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  • Restoras||

    Duh. Why harsh your mellow by doing something?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    When the map includes Long Beach you know it's thorough.

    Long Beach represent! I feel much safer now that a medical marijuana dispensary has opened two blocks away from my house. I should stop by and see how business is.

  • ||

    That's a big ol' phat philly blunt that LeMay is smokin' in the pic.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    Another battle in the war of the socialists, continually "reborn" since the Wilson administration. One set wants cannabis regulated and available through bureaucratic hoops, accompanied by the obligatory high taxes. The other wants it prohibited, employing legions of bureaucrats for that end. Each side deciding what is best for all, as long as big government is involved.

    Any takers for repeal of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act so we can be done with this nonsense?

  • kilroy||

    I'll second that.

  • SIV||

    LeMay would've made a great Vice President.

  • steve||

    say what you want about teh nukez, but LeMay was an unapologetic badass of a general, but just like Patton, MacA, Mitchell, wouldn't last a year in today's touchy feely military

  • GSL||

    More good news for medical pot in California: Jerry Brown vetoes state-level zoning regulations for dispensaries.

  • creech||

    I can think of a number of parents who'd rather their kid be beated to a pulp by thugs than be tempted to smoke the devil's weed. I swear, you could probably get a hefty minority in favor of executing drug users (except for alcohol, of course.)

  • BakedPenguin||

    I've heard more than one approvingly talk about how Mao ended opium use in China - "kill 'em all!"

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    You know who else was in favor of killing all the 'undesirables'?

  • Eduard van Haalen||


  • ¢||

    Later, California voters rejected Proposition 19 and lost a chance to make all these cooked-up problems of crime, licensing, quality of life and false scarcity disappear at once by legalizing marijuana fully.

    Why you gotta lie?

    The Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act (hint!) would have added pot-licensure and pot-tax and pot-jurisdictional "problems" to CA'S pot-criminal "problems"—which (latter) it would have altered only slightly.

    People can still read the thing, you know. There's an internet now. With old shit on it.

  • ||

    Can't read it. It's so old that it's like in Sanskrit or something.

  • ||

    Tim, wouldn't the sweep have Affected crime rates? I normally wouldn't mention it, but you strike me as such a lexophile that the mistake surprised me. Assuming it is a mistake - I just don't know how a sweep would have brought crime rates into being rather than just changing them.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    You're right. Usually I just avoid both words, but I was in a hurry. Thanks.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "Wow, man, I don't want to burgle that house, I just want to stay here and look at my hands..."

  • Walter||

    Please keep us updated...http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-pot-study-20111012,0,1809597.story

  • han||

    Do you think there will ever be a Libertarian or independent president or will it always be someone from one of the two major parties?


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