Do Marijuana Dispensaries Lead to Safer Neighborhoods?

A lingering concern about legal marijuana sales, at least among some people, is that it leads to higher crime in the places where it is sold.

Turns out that is not the case. Research on actual crime statistics shows just the opposite.

That’s the conclusion of a University of California-Irvine (UCI) study into crime rates in areas where marijuana dispensaries were closed. Rather than create crime, dispensaries actually led to lower crime rates in the neighborhoods where they operate.

Two researchers, UCI professor Mireille Jacobson and University of Southern California professor Tom Y. Chang, worked on the study.

Jacobson said the study should go a long way to dispelling the idea that legalized marijuana sales lead to more crime. She added that local jurisdictions “are just going to have to get over that fear.”

Marijuana Dispensaries and Property Crime Reduction

So just how does legal marijuana sales lead to a lower crime rate? The UCI study examined crime statistics from 2010 to get to the bottom of the issue.

The two researchers looked at 597 dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles. All sold medical marijuana – adult-use sales will not begin in California until 2018. On June 7, 2010, about 70 percent of them were forced to close by local officials. At the time, some blamed a rise in crime rates on dispensaries.

But research showed just the opposite. Specifically, they found the following when looking at property crimes in those areas:

  • A 12 percent to 14 percent increase in property crime within a third of a mile from the closed dispensaries
  • A 14 percent to 16 percent increase in crime within a fourth of a mile
  • A 23 percent to 24 percent increase in crime within an eighth of a mile

Jacobson admitted the pattern that emerged from the research “was not the result we expected.” She said the research clearly showed that dispensaries are not magnets for criminals.

“If these dispensaries truly were crime magnets, we’d expect to see a sharp decrease in crime when they shut down,” she said.

A Simple Explanation

So are marijuana dispensaries some type of special business that wards off criminals? No. Instead, they are just like any other business.

To demonstrate this, the two researchers on the UCI study also looked at the impact on crime in a neighborhood when restaurants closed. They found similar increases in crime.

They concluded that closing a medical marijuana dispensary is just like closing any other business in a neighborhood. It results in less pedestrian traffic and fewer people on the street, which makes it easier to commit property crimes such as breaking and entering and car theft.

Additionally, the study found that surveillance cameras and security personnel at the doors of a dispensary also contribute to a safer environment.

It all seems like common sense. But given that some still equate crime with marijuana, it’s common sense that some apparently still need to hear.

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