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Home > civil liberties, criminal justice > New Research Disputes Perception that Marijuana Dispensaries Facilitate Crime

New Research Disputes Perception that Marijuana Dispensaries Facilitate Crime

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That is the topic of my latest post up at the Independent Voter NetworkHere’s a taste just to wet your beak:

While prohibitionists are concerned that liberalizing marijuana policy, even via careful regulation of medical marijuana, will result in an increase in crime and threats to public safety, the evidence of empirical studies suggests otherwise. In fact, the only methodologically rigorous research to tackle the association between crime and medical marijuana dispensaries found no correlation….

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, UCLA scholars Nancy J. Kepple and Bridget Freisthler discovered that “density of medical marijuana dispensaries was not associated with violent or property crime rates” in Sacramento, California.

The paper used the routine activity theory to attempt to understand how the existence of medical marijuana dispensaries may impact crime. In criminology, routine activity theory posits that crime results from the convergence of three conditions: (1) a motivated offender; (2) a suitable target (based on value, access, visibility); and (3) the lack of a capable guardian (such as inadequate security or the absence of management or agents to watch and monitor behavior).

Kepple and Freisthler go on to explain how medical marijuana dispensaries and their surrounding areas may be suitable targets for crime (citations removed):

Applying routine activity theory to medical marijuana dispensaries suggests that dispensaries may uniquely contribute to crime even when other contextual factors associated with crime have been controlled. They have on-site stock and sales of marijuana and are a predominantly cash-based business. The centralized location of the goods—marijuana and cash— within the dispensaries makes the location a suitable target for a potential offender who might be motivated to seek out ways to obtain the desirable goods, particularly where security appears to be absent.

Based on the conditions described above, dispensaries can be at risk for property crimes, such as burglary. Employees of the dispensaries can be at risk for violent crimes, such as robbery or assault, because they are gatekeepers to both the marijuana products and the cash at the site. Estimates from the western United States and other countries show that users of medical cannabis are primarily male (i.e., two thirds to three fourths of all users) and White, with a wide range of ages (i.e., late teen years to old age; median age between 30 and 50). The typical clientele for dispensaries (i.e., older White men) are not associated with being at risk for perpetrating crime. However, they are at risk for being targets of violent crimes, such as robbery, because they are likely carrying cash on entry and some physical amount of marijuana product on exit. In addition, medical marijuana dispensaries have a diverse clientele, with some who are older, frail, and/or diagnosed with chronic, debilitating conditions. These more vulnerable clients may appear to be easier targets for a motivated offender and are at higher risk for victimization.

The authors then “used an ecological, cross-sectional design to explore the spatial relationship between the density of medical marijuana dispensaries and crime rates in the City of Sacramento.” In sum, the study finds that “cross-sectional results suggest that dispensaries are not associated with crime rates.”

While commercial zoning, one-person housing units, and the unemployment rate were all positively associated with both violent and property crime rates, “no cross-sectional associations were observed between the density of medical marijuana dispensaries and violent or property crime rates, controlling for ecological variables traditionally associated with routine activity theory.”

Check out the entire piece here.

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