Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

culture | 01.01.2022

Alcohol and Tobacco Shops Lead to More Crime Than Dispensaries, Study Finds

With the growing legalization of marijuana, many communities are resisting dispensaries in their neighborhoods. A new study finds their attention should be elsewhere.

There was a time when marijuana enthusiasts were broadly painted as violent criminals, prone to domestic abuse and bouts of psychosis. And yet, most would agree that the calming effects of marijuana are not conducive to violence. At least this is what a new study seems to suggest.

The study—authored by researchers from the University of California, San Jose State University, University of Kansas, and Loyola Marymount University—looked at how marijuana, alcohol and tobacco retail shops in south Los Angeles each affect the crime rates of surrounding communities. Compared to alcohol and tobacco, marijuana fared well.

According to the study, crime rates within 100-feet of tobacco and alcohol shops were higher than crime rates in those communities in general. But, that wasn’t the case for medical marijuana dispensaries which did not seem to affect crime rates significantly. 

The study will appear in the journal Preventative Medicine. This research stands in contrast to the beliefs of high-ranking United States government officials, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who stated last year that there is “real violence around” marijuana use. This is a persistent belief for some, despite numerous studies that have also found a correlation between marijuana and lower crime rates.

One study, published in the Journal of Urban Economics in July, found that closing marijuana dispensaries leads to “an immediate increase in crime.” Another study from the University of Buffalo also found that marijuana users are much less likely to engage in domestic violence.

To be fair, some studies do say that marijuana use is correlated with violent behavior. And given these conflicting findings, it’s possible that the data—from both studies indicating a positive and negative correlation between marijuana and violent crime—has been misinterpreted.

CannabisCrimeLower2 5th grader accidentally hands out gummy edibles at school
DENVER, CO – JANUARY 1: Head of security Kurt Britz checks a driver’s license at the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary on January 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Legalization of recreational marijuana sales in the state went into effect at 8am this morning. (Photo by Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

For example, the authors of the study scheduled to appear in Preventative Medicine write that the “presence of visible property safeguards (e.g., security cameras)…may lower dispensary-related violence.” Or that these dispensaries’ “tendency to close or relocate quickly” could also play a role in lower crime rates compared to alcohol and tobacco retailers, rather than the nature of marijuana itself. Alternatively, many wonder whether the subjects in the studies that found a correlation between marijuana and rising violent crime were predisposed to violent behavior, regardless of their marijuana use.

In general, research into the effects of marijuana is relatively scarce and more studies will need to be done to draw a definitive conclusion. And while this latest study suggests that medical marijuana dispensaries do not lead to an increase in crime rate in the surrounding area, the stereotype that paints all marijuana enthusiasts as pacifists can be equally pernicious. In more recent years, for example, anti-weed propaganda has gone in the opposite direction by portraying marijuana enthusiasts as lazy, torpid creatures with barely enough energy to engage in basic conversation.

The truth about marijuana is likely somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, and ultimately marijuana affects every person differently. But for now, according to this latest study, at least, it appears that the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries do not lead to an increase in crime—and that’s good news for the rapidly growing cannabis industry and the communities that could benefit from it.

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