Despite sporadic outbreaks of homicides and robberies at L.A.'s pot shops, a new RAND study released today (PDF) indicates that dispensaries don't contribute to rises in crime in their neighborhoods. But the Weekly took a look and found this report has more flaws than a gangster's diamond.
RAND says its "findings challenge the common wisdom that marijuana dispensaries promote criminal activity" and that " ... when medical marijuana dispensaries close, crime rises in the surrounding neighborhood when compared to areas where dispensaries are allowed to remain open ... "
Here's how the researchers at the respected Santa Monica nonprofit think tank say they did it:
They looked at crime 10 days before and 10 days after the city of L.A. ordered "more than 70 percent of the city's 638 medical marijuana dispensaries to close" in June, 2010.
According to a statement RAND researchers "also collected details about crime during the same period near dispensaries that did not close and dispensaries in surrounding communities such as West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County."
The study says there were "60 percent more reports of crime" within three blocks of a closed dispensary. Researchers think that crime might have increased because security guards normally at the dispensaries were no longer there, leading to a 50 percent increase of "reports of breaking and entering" within three blocks of closed dispensaries.
Our problems with the study are these:
1) - The city of L.A. never had 638 dispensaries by anyone's count that we know of. In fact, at the peak of L.A.'s pot shop explosion last year city officials looked at the Weekly's definitive count -- our own Steve La actually called every advertised dispensary in town to determine if they were open -- and came up with 583. That came from the LAPD, and is as official as it gets.
2) - The Weekly found that many remained open following the original ordinance's passing. In fact it was hard to find those that had closed down.
Even the city, it seems, isn't clear what shops are open and which are closed. The shops seem to shut their doors and move around at will, as seen in communities such as Eagle Rock.
Following numerous court challenges and a onetime freeze on enforcement against closing pot shops by the city, it's apparent that many dispensaries were going to remain defiant, at least until courts ruled on their final legality. Where did RAND find all these closed pot shops? The study indicates that it looked at crime reports in the vicinity of 430 shops "that were subject to closure on June 7, 2010," but it doesn't seem to confirm that they actually closed. Let us answer that question: Many did not.
The study even name-checks the Weekly and the Los Angeles Times and says it reanalyzed its data based on reports here and at the Times indicating that some dispensaries remained defiantly open. However, this author wrote most of those stories for the Weekly and can say that those defiant dispensaries were simply a few examples we could track down of many that remained open. Like we said, the city itself hasn't always been clear on how many shops have remained open and reopened following the June, 2010 ordinance designed to rein in the explosion of pot shops here.
(Interestingly, one of the key factors cited by the City Attorney's office in supporting the ordinance: Crime around dispensaries).
3) - The RAND statement says it also looked at dispensaries in places such as Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills does not have and has not had any dispensaries, as they are banned in the gilded city. Therefore there certainly isn't any crime associated with the nonexistent dispensaries in Beverly Hills, a small city that has a consistently low crime rate anyway.
4) - Finally, crime continued to decline in the city of L.A. during the period covered. According to LAPD statistics year-over-year burglary was down 9.2 percent citywide for the week following the alleged closures in June, 2010. Personal theft was down nearly 8 percent. Yet RAND found these pockets of crime near reportedly closed dispensaries where break-ins were up by 50 percent? These crimes sure seemed to elude the official stat-keepers at the LAPD.
As we've noted, there have been some serious crimes that have been connected to dispensaries, including the murder of three people in West Hollywood last year and the robbery-homicide last summer of Angeleno Heights pot shop employee Matthew Butcher, the son of noted union leader Julie Butcher.
Nonetheless, pot advocates, long critical of coverage here and elsewhere of dispensary related murders and crime, are happy with RAND's conclusions.
The group Americans for Safe Access said RAND had dispelled "the myth that there are inherent links between medial marijuana distribution centers and crime."
Let us know what you think. We're sure you will.
[Added]: Frank Mateljan, spokesman at the City Attorney's office, told the Los Angeles Daily News the study "relies exclusively upon faulty assumptions, conjecture, irrelevant data, untested measurements and incomplete results. The conclusions are therefore highly suspect and unreliable ... "