Prohibition-addicted police can’t believe closing medical marijuana dispensaries INCREASES crime

  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator September 21, 2011

    Actual slide from "Summit on the Impact of California’s Medical Marijuana Laws" presentation for law enforcement in 2009. (click for entire presentation in PDF format)

    A new study by the RAND Corporation takes a look at the effect of the recent closure of numerous Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries.  Opponents of dispensaries, most notably law enforcement, have long argued that marijuana dispensaries increase crime in their neighborhoods.  However, the data revealed by RAND today shows the opposite:

    (Los Angeles Times) In a study of crime near Los Angeles dispensaries — which the investigators call the most rigorous independent examination of its kind — the Santa Monica-based think tank found that crime actually increased near hundreds of pot shops after they were required to close last summer.

    Police have been desperate to show the public that acceptance of marijuana commerce leads to greater crime and danger. In Los Angeles, the “pot shops cause crime” mantra was a subject of a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Summit on the Impact of California’s Medical Marijuana Laws – Dispensary Related Crime” delivered by Cmdr. Michael Regan to over 400 law enforcement officers attending in July 2009.  Regan’s slides (download here) included such terrifying claims as:

    • “Worse than combining a liquor store and a casino – lots of cash, lots of guns”
    • “…a CHP officer was paralyzed by a marijuana impaired driver.”
    • “…a group of suspects entered the dispensary, tied everyone up and robbed the place of about $50,000.”
    • “…a masked gunman fired four shots into a dispensary worker’s car as he pulled into the parking lot.”
    • “…one of the club’s customers was ambushed, robbed for his marijuana and killed at a nearby gas station.”
    • “Crimes related to dispensaries may not be associated or recorded as such.”

    Yet even as these individual anecdotes were sensationalized in this 2009 presentation, just two months earlier the LA crime statistics reported by the LA Times told a different story:

    [Crime is d]ramatically down. And here in Los Angeles, the drop is particularly stunning. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, compared with the same period in 2008, homicide is down by 32%; rape 12%; robbery 3%; burglary 6%, and grand theft auto a shocking 18%.

    Similar “crime magnet” arguments have been floated by police in Northern California as well.  Back in 2010, Capt. Denise Schmidt wrote a letter to the San Francisco planning department, arguing:

    [Dispensaries] have proven an attractive target for violent criminals due to the large amount of marijuana and cash maintained on site. Dispensaries have experienced take-over robberies, burglaries, shootings, stabbings, fights and homicides. Additionally, criminals target the pedestrian traffic in and around [dispensaries] for strong-arm and armed robberies, knowing that the potential for these victims to be carrying either cash and or marijuana is highly likely.

    But when Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus asked the SFPD to back up those claims with data from the state’s COMPSTAT system that tracks crime by neighborhood, suddenly SF Police Chief George Gascon wasn’t so eager to mine the data.

    LA Police Chief Charlie Beck wasn’t as reluctant as Chief Gascon to admit that dispensaries weren’t “crime magnets”.  Back in January of 2010, Beck told the Los Angeles Daily News:

    “Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,” Beck said at a recent meeting with editors and reporters of the Los Angeles Daily News.

    Opponents of the pot clinics complain that they attract a host of criminal activity to the neighborhoods, including robberies. But a report that Beck recently had the department generate looking at citywide robberies in 2009 found that simply wasn’t the case.

    “I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra,” said Beck. “It doesn’t really bear out.”

    In 2009, the LAPD received reports of 71 robberies at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to 47 robberies at medical marijuana facilities which number at least 800, the chief said in a follow up interview, in which he provided statistics from the report.

    The fact is that dispensaries revitalize neighborhoods, install security cameras, increase foot traffic, provide jobs, and inject revenue into the local economy – all actions that any undergraduate social scientist can tell you will help reduce crime.  Similar studies of dispensary operations in Denver and Colorado Springs have also shown no correlation between dispensary operations and crime.

    But to the police, the sales and use of the marijuana itself is something they consider criminal.  In defending the “pot shops are crime magnets” bogeyman, the cops (with a straight face, even,) blame the increase in crime upon closing a dispensary on “infighting among collective members, increased traffic for pot fire sales and customers disgruntled to find their dispensary closed.”  Or, in other words, as the RAND report points out, the police action of shutting down dispensaries increases crime!

    Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, strenuously disagreed with the report’s conclusions.

    “Every time we shut down a dispensary, the crime and the disorder decrease,” he said.

    The report looks at such crimes as thefts and assaults, but not “disorder,” nuisances such as loitering, double parking, loud noises and graffiti that sparked anger among neighborhood activists. Whitmore said those complaints are often what causes the department to act.

    So you shut down a dispensary and there is allegedly less graffiti and double parking, but there is actually a 59% increase in thefts and assaults in a three block radius?  Not a very good trade, if you ask me.  In fact, these “nuisances” are often exaggerated reports by neighbors who, like the cops, cling to the prohibition of marijuana and the demonization of those who consume it and jump on any excuse to send the cops in:

    “Our main concern is the crime of illegal dispensaries illegally selling marijuana,” [Michael Larsen, president of the neighborhood council] said. “That’s the crime that we’re concerned about.”

    The simple truth is that in California and Colorado and all the other medical marijuana states, we have 1.5 million consumers protected from prosecution for the possession of cannabis.  Absent a visit from “the weed fairy”, however, these consumers have to find a supplier for their state-sanctioned medicine.  That can be a well-regulated, well-lit, adults-only, secure, taxpaying facility that creates jobs, revitalizes neighborhoods, and reduces crime… or it can be a drug dealer in the corner of a city park, a public parking lot, or a run-down apartment who doesn’t check IDs, doesn’t care about doctor’s recommendations, and has no quality or safety standards for cannabis medicine.  Which do you think leads to more crime?

    P.S. Law enforcement seemed to think RAND Corp’s studies were reliable when they were saying Prop 19 legalization wouldn’t dramatically impact the profitability of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

    33 responses to “Prohibition-addicted police can’t believe closing medical marijuana dispensaries INCREASES crime”

    1. Chris in WI says:

      They can’t ignore us anymore can they? I mean they have to address this on the news right?


      I really don’t know what it’s going to take to get the right kind of attention. I am as frustrated as ever. We are soooooo close, yet “they” still hold all the cards.

      I’m still unsure why we cannot get all factions of the legalization movement to say “Drug use is a personal choice”. We accept this logic for alcohol, so why is it so preposterous when suggested for cannabis?

      /boggle ON

      [Paul Armentano responds: The mainstream media, including the AP, LA Times, Washington Post, etc., are prominently covering this story today.]

    2. I heard on KNX radio out of, Los Angeles yesterday that crime decreased particularly murders in California .Then they said this was due to an increasing police presence ( police are being ” let – go ” because the State is broke )and then they said that this was due to longer prison terms ( the Governor ordered release of 35,000 prisoners to reduce overcrowding due to our cash strapped budget).In fact they will tell you everything but the truth . Who wants to get violent while medicating on Marijuana ?

      I also spoke out about a guy in, Humboldt County named, Ron Kuhnel who boosts about his liking for beer & whose belly hits the moon ( he said he just ” tastes beer ” ) who was not only running for City council but was doing everything he could to limit the amount of medical Marijuana dispensaries in and around
      Eureka .

      Here’s what i said,

      Since , Ron Kuhnel worked hard to limit the number of Marijuana dispensaries in & around , Eureka i have a suggestion that makes even more sense . Limit by reducing the amount of stores that sells or promotes the sale of alcohol , tobacco & pharmaceuticals .
      Examples : Grocery stores ,Pharmacies , Restaurants , liquor stores and anyone that sells / pushes alcoholic beverages , drugs & cigarettes . After all there are
      more murders ,suicides , DUI’S ,family & spousal abuse ,assaults , robberies and misc. crime in a single 48 hour period in just Los Angeles County alone by the sales of alcohol , legal drugs & tobacco than what would probally occur in 5 years in the entire State of California from sells of Marijuana at these dispensaries .
      It wasn’t long ago in Eureka there were two armed robberies at Pharmacies over Oxycotin ( See ; The Times standard ) yet these same Pharmacies sell a ” Marijuana drug testing Kit ” . Great deception , huh ?

      So , Ron ,when you sober up you’ll really make some sense when you cut down or eliminate pharmacies , grocery stores , liquor stores & restaurants since those are the real culprits in reducing our high crime rate .

      Guess what ?
      He lost the race .

    3. wbs 101 says:

      So by these cops reasoning we shouldn’t have banks because they cause too much crime? As a matter of fact it isn’t necessarily the drugs that people are killing people over it’s the fact they are worth a lot of money.
      People kill and rob over money every day so let’s just get to the root and make money illegal.

    4. Eric says:

      Its almost kind of entertaining as well as, outraging to a point, but more of a “nuisance” to see how almost childish the reactions are coming from the people in power who are suppose to make choices with the publics best interest in mind. It seems no different from a kid in middle school getting made fun of and tantalized for simply saying the right answer in class ( personally I’ve been in said situation and its actually funny to watch the attempts of someone who doesnt know the correct answer, find any excuse they can (possibly not even related to the subject) to make the person who stands up for the right answer feel bad about standing up in the first place.) which brings a conformitable reasoning to both sides..fear. The opposing side is in fear of change, or maybe simply just affraid to lose their perceptionalized point of power over the classroom or in this case the public. Whilst the other side, who goes by the numbers and speaks their answers out of statistic thought, is in fear of ridicule, harm, and especially…punishment. There will always be consequences both good and bad to every choice made no matter what the choice is, or the intent behind the choice, but to simply punish the public for something statistically proven to be better for their safety and well being, is no more hypocritical than verbally making fun of somebody for being smart in class, just because they know the answer and the others of ignorance do not….They say money is basically the reason for the robberies of medical marijuana and their dispensaries, but is money not the reason for the government’s attempts at shutting down dispensaries?….Its always amusing to me how the more power you have, the more you start to rely, and revolve your world around something as common as green paper money that is theoretically worthless untill you actually spend it on something. Apparently money outweighs life and wellness in this day and age which should be a crime in itself, therefor, the ones with the most money who dont do anything progressive or unselfish with it, are in my eyes just as guilty of this should be crime as the ones who are willing to steal and cause harm just to hopefully accquire money without getting caught….A wise man once said, “Do not point fingers untill you make sure your own hands are clean.”

    5. TheOracle says:

      More shoot-outs with police whereby the shooters/non-cops have heavy duty body armor and armor-piercing rounds in lots of automatic weapons, gunning down cops left and right at will…

      Hm, why don’t they just invite the Mexican drug cartels to expand their war into L.A.?

    6. Tank Taylor says:

      Great article, this is very a very encouraging statistic generated by a very discouraging situation.

      I can’t help but wonder if the gun violence caused by Prohibition might not make unusual bedfellows of NORML and the NRA. The biggest enemy the NRA has is the liberal left, however, the liberal left is a bastion of support for our cause.

      I know it will get me hate mail, but I am an NRA life member. I joined when the Clinton regime was after my rights to keep and bear arms. I do not agree with many of the NRA’s policies, or current stances on some issues, but I understand the true importance of the 2nd Amendment.

      I’m out of work right now, or I’d be a NORML member too! Give me a month or two.

      Without the crime statistics to support the gun grabs, the NRA’s largest headache goes away. With the NRA’s lobbying power, Prohibition could go away.

      The biggest hurdles to making this alliance, as I see them, are the advertisers found in NRA magazines, arms manufacturers, like the war on drugs as it keeps sales up. And on our side of the fight, many of our people are rabid anti-NRA people, for reasons that are important to them, and respected by me, though I do not agree.

      If we can manage to forge this unlikely alliance, we will win in 2012. Perhaps we should send in LEAP?

      [Russ responds: I grew up in Idaho and first fired a .22 rifle when I was eight years old. I completed hunter education by age 12 (though I’ve never hunted) and handled firearms from M-16s to M-60s in the National Guard. I have long argued that the NRA, if it is serious about the Second Amendment, should be vocally opposing the War on (Certain American Citizens Using Non-Pharmaceutical, Non-Alcoholic, Tobacco-Free) Drugs. Alas, since marijuana is an “illegal drug”, the NRA has no sympathy for “felons” who lose their Constitutional firearm rights for convictions of growing a plant.]

    7. Brandon says:

      So when law enforcement, like in California, can’t prosecute medical cannabis collectives and operators do they go and give a ring to their great friends over at the Fed government?

    8. Brandon says:

      Make cigarettes illegal. I dare you. The entire tobacco market would be driven underground and we’d see addicts rummaging, and robbing, the streets for their fix of a $50 pack of cigarettes. Filthy animal law makers!