A medical marijuana dispensary in the Denver area doesn’t have any more impact on its neighborhood than does a coffee shop or a drugstore, according to a recent study released by the University of Colorado Denver. Not only that, but residents don’t perceive a dispensary as an undesirable use of a storefront.
These findings counter the constant negative messages coming from law enforcement and anti-cannabis crusaders. And apparently, even the researchers were shocked by the results.
The CU Denver study looked at ways race, ethnicity and economic status played into the location of the centers themselves, with researchers taking the position that the 275 dispensaries they studied were largely located in lower-income areas. And while the findings showed that dispensaries are more likely to be located in areas that have higher rates of criminal activity, that’s simply a matter of logistics: Crime generally occurs more often near commercial retail areas, and dispensaries are zoned as retail centers.
Paul Stretsky, a research student at the CU Denver School of Public Affairs who helped lead the study, says his team had predicted from the outset that dispensaries would change the neighborhoods surrounding them for the worse and create more crime. But that just wasn’t the case, he notes. The researchers even went back through their methods to find some error that could account for the findings and found nothing.
“We argued a bit among ourselves and divided the data up every way we could think of to find evidence of inequality where we may have missed it,” Stretsky says in a release on the study. “We replicated the analysis independently. Nothing. It simply looks like these are not as undesirable as they are made out to be in the media and by law enforcement.”
While the researchers here might have been surprised, similar studies in Colorado and California have come up with the same conclusions in recent years. A 2012 study on dispensaries in Sacramento using police-compiled crime statistics showed no increase in crime whatsoever near the shops. Researchers in that study did note, however, that because of the nature of marijuana businesses, any crimes that did occur tended to receive more media attention than a similar robbery of a dry cleaner or gas station.
Even in Los Angeles, where dispensaries have flourished for years, police-department studies showed that banks were about four times more likely to be targeted than dispensaries. (According to the FBI, there were 170 bank robberies in Denver in 2011 — a number far higher than the total for dispensary robberies.)
Some argue that crime actually decreases around medical marijuana centers, in part due to the increased security-camera surveillance, as well as security guards at some shops.
This story originally ran over at Westword.com