Marijuana dispensaries cause crime, and everybody knows it. As soon as one of these shops locates in a neighborhood, criminal activity spikes and property values plummet. Right?
Well, as it turns out, that widely held assumption is wrong. A new study by the University of Colorado Denver shows pot shops don’t have a significant impact on crime rates. Nor do they lead to other negative outcomes.
The study’s authors asked whether marijuana dispensaries are “locally undesirable land uses,” also known as LULUs. These are land uses that may benefit society as a whole but are opposed by neighbors because of their effect on the community.
The study examined 275 distribution facilities in 75 neighborhoods in the Denver area. Data from the 2010 census was compared with data from the 2000 census; medical weed was adopted that year.
Marijuana stores, the study found, tend to locate in higher crime neighborhoods. But there’s no evidence the shops have anything to do with the criminal activity – they’re simply moving into neighborhoods that already have high crime rates.
“Everybody is saying that these things are undesirable,” said Paul Stretesky, a professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs and an author of the study. “If that’s the case, it’s certainly not showing up in the data.
Researchers went into the study expecting to find certain negative traits associated with dispensaries. For one thing, they expected the shops would be clustered in poor minority neighborhoods, and they expected the stores’ presence would make those neighborhoods poorer.
Instead, they found no relationships between the sites where dispensaries are opened and ethnicity or poverty rates. Cannabis stores are apparently located randomly throughout Denver.
“If you think of these (shops) like a polluting facility, based on the research I’ve done in the past, those facilities often release toxic chemicals in minority areas,” Stretesky said. “I was looking at marijuana in the same way. It’s probably not a good drug to be using. I would expect to see that these (dispensaries) are undesirable . . . I would not want my kids living near one. But maybe so many people look at [marijuana] as an acceptable thing that it’s not harming neighborhoods. It brings in revenue and tax dollars. When you look at alcohol, it may not be as harmful. Maybe people’s opinions have changed.”
The findings of the study pose a new challenge to members of law enforcement, who often point to MMJ dispensaries as problem businesses with little or no statistical evidence. It’s unlikely to change many minds, but it may at least give weed proponents a stronger argument.