The RAND Corp. today released a study that found crime rises in neighborhoods where dispensaries are shut down compared to crime rates where they're allowed to stay open, a find that challenges the belief put forward by some authorities that marijuana dispensaries promote crime.
"Studying crime both before and after a large number of dispensaries were shut down in Los Angeles, researchers found that incidents such as break-ins rose in the neighborhoods of closed dispensaries relative to dispensaries allowed to remain open, at least in the short term," RAND said in a statement accompanying its study. "In the blocks with the closed dispensaries, the study observed crime up to 60 percent greater than comparable blocks with open dispensaries, but the effects were not apparent across a wider area."
The study's lead author and a senior RAND economist, Mireille Jacobson, said that if dispensaries are causing crime, "then there should be a drop in crime when they close.
"Individual dispensaries may attract crime or create a neighborhood nuisance, but we found no evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries in general cause crime to rise," she said.
RAND said its study is the first systematic analysis of the claim that marijuana dispensaries are linked to crime.
RAND researchers examined crime reports for the 10 days prior to and the 10 days following June 7, 2010, when Los Angeles ordered the closure of more than 70 percent of the city's 638 medical marijuana dispensaries. One of the reasons cited for the closures was the desire to limit dispensaries because of the presumed connection to crime.
The RAND study found that crimes reported near closed dispensaries remained relatively flat while crime reports near the remaining dispensaries decreased, suggesting a relative increase in crime around closed dispensaries.
"We don't see any more crime that we can attribute to those shops," LAPD Senior Lead Officer Mike Lewis, who patrols the Studio City area, in 2010. "If they are in violation of something, we will put a stop to it, but so far it's been quiet."
However, in the LAPD North Hollywood Division's patrol area, which includes Studio City, there have been a few high-profile crimes linked to dispensaries. On April 16, LAPD officers on the roof of a dispensary in North Hollywood. In June, more alleged robbers were caught on Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood.
The study also found about 60 percent more reports of crime within three blocks of a closed dispensary compared to an open dispensary.
Some local law enforcement officials quickly dismissed the RAND study.
Detective Robert Holcomb of the Los Angeles Police Department's Narcotics Enforcement Detail in the San Fernando Valley told the Daily News that dispensaries "are a center for crime ... Look at it from a criminal standpoint: Here is a location that you know contains narcotics, money—so what better location to rob?"
Frank Mateljan, spokesman for the City Attorney's office, added: "The study is the polar opposite of a scientific and measured response to verified data. It relies exclusively upon faulty assumptions, conjecture, irrelevant data, untested measurements and incomplete results. The conclusions are therefore highly suspect and unreliable," he told the Daily News.
In contrast, medical marijuana advocates were elated with the RAND study.
"We have reached the same conclusions as RAND...,'' said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access.
—City News Service contributed to this report.