It's time for the second installment of our new series, "Prohibitionist Arguments Cannalyzed," in which I examine arguments 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: Dispensaries attract crime to their location, and the surrounding neighborhoods.
I'm not really sure how this came to be an argument. If it was "Crack Houses attract crime to their location, and the surrounding neighborhoods," I would agree. But—and this is an important distinction that some prohibitionists don't make—bless their hearts, dispensaries are not crack houses.
They are extremely regulated, with more cameras than you would find anywhere outside of a Kardashian set, and multiple locks, gates, etc. They have employees who check IDs. They are extremely well lit. With all these security measures, they may well be the safest building on any block, and research shows that having them open in a formerly vacant storefront also reduces crime.
Now, much like banks, they are a target for some (really stupid) thieves. That's because the banking regulations exclude dispensaries, growers and other cannabis industry players from having bank accounts, resulting in large amounts of cash on site. But that's a rarity.
In May, RAND published a study, "High on Crime? Exploring the Effects of Marijuana Dispensary Laws on Crime in California Counties," which as the online journal, Marijuana Moment, writes, examined 58 counties in California, and which ones had dispensaries licensed and opened beginning in 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.
"We find no significant impact of dispensaries on violent crime in any of our models," and that "...for property crimes, we see no effect from adopting dispensaries in the model excluding county-specific time trends." Another research model performed actually showed a decrease in property crimes of between 5.1 -6.3 percent in counties which did allow dispensaries. They add that "dispensaries help reduce crime by reducing vacant buildings and putting more security in these areas."
How does this compare to stores that sell alcohol and tobacco? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wondered that same thing, and recently released a study that looked at three types of businesses in South Central Los Angeles, including medical marijuana dispensaries, tobacco stores and liquor stores. (The report noted that South Central is a "large, high-crime, low-income urban community of color,"—notable if a prohibitionist argument maker also may have certain um, "ideas," about race and crime.)
The study found that both violent and property crime increased substantially within multiple measured distances from the stores that sold either tobacco or alcohol exclusively. The areas around medical marijuana dispensaries did not see an increase in crime rates. The report concluded that "tobacco shops may constitute public health threats that associate with crime and violence in U.S. low-income urban communities of color."
How does law enforcement, now unburdening from pursuing "cannabis crimes" in a post-legalization state with licensed dispensaries, use their freed-up time? Maybe solving some real damn crimes? Actually, yes, they are doing that.
One of the least sought out journals in my circles, Police Quarterly, published a study which looked at violent and property crime clearance rates in Washington and Colorado since recreational cannabis legalization. (A "clearance rate" is a formula that determines the percentage of crimes reported that have been cleared by an arrest.) They concluded that "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."