Do Marijuana Dispensaries Cause Rise in Crime?

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A new study found an association between marijuana dispensaries and increases in rates of crime in neighborhoods in Denver shortly after Colorado commenced legal retail sales of marijuana.

The study, by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver, appears in Justice Quarterly, a publication of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

“We found that neighborhoods with one or more medical or recreational dispensary saw increased crime rates that were between 26 and 1,452 percent higher than in neighborhoods without any commercial marijuana activity,” said Lorine A. Hughes, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, in press release.

Researchers looked at both medical and recreational dispensaries from 2012 to 2015 (Colorado legalized marijuana in 2014). Measures of crime and disorder were drawn from the Denver Police Department and included aggravated assault, auto theft, burglary, drug and alcohol offense, murder, public disorder, robbery, and theft from a car.

Data showed that except for murder, the presence of at least one medical marijuana dispensary was associated with a statistically significant increase in neighborhood crime and disorder, including robbery and aggravated assault.

The study also found a relatively strong association between medical marijuana dispensaries and drug and alcohol offenses, with a decline in the strength of the link after recreational marijuana was legalized.

However, researchers noted that the strongest associations between dispensaries and crime weakened significantly over time.

They also note that because the study relied on official police data to measure crime and disorder, it’s possible that police targeted neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries, which would over-estimate the association between these facilities and crime and disorder.

“Although our results indicate that both medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries are associated with increases in most major crime types, the weak strength typical of these relationships suggests that, if Denver’s experience is representative, major spikes in crime are unlikely to occur in other places following legalization,” said Lonnie M. Schaible, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, who coauthored the study.

Authors concluded that, rather than fighting to oppose legalized marijuana, which has become a multibillion-dollar industry and is expected to create more than a quarter of a million jobs by 2020, it may be more expedient to develop and support secure and legal ways for dispensaries to engage in financial transactions.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

See Also: Colorado Marijuana Sales Top $6 Billion in 5 Years 

Additional Reading: Colorado Studies Uptick in Weed-Related Auto Fatalities

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