L.A city voters last year decided to shut down a vast majority of the medical marijuana businesses in town, and the City Attorney's office says many of them have indeed closed their doors.
But a new study by UCLA social welfare professor Bridget Freisthler suggests, at least, that shutting down pot shops might just put the whole business on the road.
According to a summary of the research, published this month in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and funded by the anti-marijuana National Institute on Drug Abuse:
Banning medical marijuana dispensaries or regulating their number and density in a given city may not be sufficient to lower marijuana use if delivery services open in their place.
Freisthler and co-author Paul Gruenewald of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation looked at 9,000 pot users in 50 California cities that have populations of 500,000 or less, she said.
There was a strong correlation, they found, between the availability of medical marijuana and greater use of cannabis. According to UCLA's summary:
A key finding from the study was that people in cities with greater availability of medical marijuana — as measured by the density of dispensaries and delivery services — reported more current marijuana use and more frequent use.
Although the availability of delivery services didn't seem to correlate to greater use in a community, Freisthler believes there's a supply-and-demand dynamic here in which both dispensaries and delivery services are opening in places with high demand.
The professor told us that, in cities with bans or heavy restrictions on dispensaries, entrepreneurs and patients appear to be "adopting" by opening and using delivery services.
She said in a statement:
In terms of future policy, this could mean that banning storefront dispensaries or regulating the number and density of dispensaries may not be sufficient ways to reduce marijuana use if delivery services open in their place. The implication is that regulating delivery services needs to occur along with the regulation of storefront dispensaries.
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However, it's never been clear to us that cities that have cracked down on pot shops did so to reign in marijuana use. Often it was done to appease NIMBYs who didn't want smelly weed storefronts in their communities.
We asked Freisthler about that, and here's what she said:
What's the ultimate concern? We're worried about our neighborhoods only, or we're concerned about the affects on public health and long-term consequences? It depends on where you stand. We know so little about delivery services in general we just don't know what the long-term consequences are yet.