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: