Medical marijuana dispensaries have long been plagued by the stigma of contributing to crime. But in a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers found there was no correlation between marijuana outlets and crime rates in Sacramento, California.
A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed violent and property crimes from 2009 in 95 census tracts in Sacramento. A total of 40 medical marijuana dispensaries were located within 28 of the 95 census tracts. While neighborhoods with high unemployment and commercially zoned areas did have higher rates of crime, the researchers found no relation between the density of marijuana dispensaries and crime.
California and 16 other states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, and there have been growing concerns that marijuana dispensaries and their customers are targets for crime.
“The reality is, we haven’t had any evidence to support those claims,” wrote lead author Nancy J. Kepple. “This conclusion suggests that we should further question whether medical marijuana dispensaries are related to crime.” Kepple stressed the researchers only looked at neighborhoods at one point in time, so it’s not clear whether crime patterns change after a medical marijuana dispensary is opened.
The validity of the study was questioned by Sergeant Andrew Pettit of the Sacramento Police Department.
“Did they just randomly choose a part of a city? Or did they run statistics prior to a dispensary even being erected in that location? That’s the way I would do it,” said Pettit, who cited his own experiences with medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as anecdotes from other policemen, as reasons to dispute the results.
“I have personal knowledge of crimes that have happened based around dispensaries; robberies, thefts, people either robbing businesses themselves or patrons or customers after they leave,” Pettit told American News Report, while noting the message being sent to would-be robbers after someone exits a marijuana dispensary. “It’s pretty obvious after a person goes into a dispensary and they leave, it’s obvious what they have in their possession. It’s like going to the bank.”
But Adam Connor, a volunteer worker at the Sacramento medical marijuana dispensary J Street Wellness Collective, supports the findings of the UCLA study.
“The statistics aren’t lying,” Connor said. “I live no more than eight blocks from here and it’s great. In the six months that I’ve volunteered here, we haven’t had any interaction with police at all. Oh no, I lied – we did have to call the city one time, because someone was going through the trash cans in back.”
Connor says Sacramento’s problems with homelessness and panhandling are a greater concern than medical marijuana dispensaries.
As for as the demonization of marijuana as a substance and the dispensaries as catalysts of crime, Connor thinks the U.S. is on the precipice of accepting the drug.
“I think that’s the stigma because throughout the majority of the U.S., marijuana is considered a hardcore, black market drug,” he said. “I think that this is changing is hard for people to accept. It’s the same thing that happened with alcohol at one point in time. Right now, we’re in the baby stages of informing people. As people learn more and more, they’ll become more and more comfortable with it. This is no longer a crime; this is something we’re doing to legitimize medicine for people who need it.”