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Medical marijuana: Study shows dispensaries may create safer neighborhoods

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Do medical marijuana dispensaries make neighborhoods safer? That's the conclusion of a study by the RAND Corporation, which counters the widespread perception that MMJ businesses attract crime.

The study, released last week, focuses on Los Angeles, where in 2010 officials decided to ban roughly 400 marijuana shops from doing business within city limits, forcing hundreds of stores to close when the ordinance went into effect that June. RAND researchers looked at crime statistics on such offenses as theft and assault in the ten days leading up to the mass closure, and then the stats for the ten days after the closure.

The results indicate that crime increased about 60 percent within three blocks of a pot shop shut down by the city; meanwhile, the few shops that were grandfathered in and remained open saw an increase in criminal activity of about 24 percent.

Los Angeles law-enforcement officials were quick to dismiss the study, noting that it did not examine petty crimes, such as noise violations, graffiti tagging and loitering.

While the majority of the study was based on information collected in California, researchers did contact Denver and Colorado Springs police departments; officials there said they hadn't noticed an increase in crime near dispensaries. In fact, according to the Denver Police Department, the odds are greater that you'll be part of a bank robbery than a medical marijuana dispensary stickup.

Mireille Jacobson, lead researcher on the study, said the results might reflect the fact that security at the sites as well as increased police patrols deterred not just crime at the centers, but also illegal street sales nearby.

Mason Tvert, who has headed the Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation campaign in Colorado for more than half a decade, isn't surprised by the study's findings. "This really confirms what we have known for some time," he says. "Ending marijuana prohibition and regulating it instead of keeping it illegal would make our communities safer."

You can read the report here.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana stats: Is White House looking for link between dispensaries and crime?"

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