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More Crime Near Alcohol And Tobacco Shops Than Marijuana Dispensaries, Study Finds

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Medical marijuana dispensaries seem to attract much lower neighborhood crime rates than stores dedicated to selling alcohol and tobacco products.

That’s the conclusion suggested by the results of a new study published this week.

“At 100 feet, tobacco shops and off-sale alcohol outlets—but not MMDs [medical marijuana dispensaries]—experienced significantly higher property and violent crime rates than grocery/convenience stores,” researchers from four universities in California and Kansas, funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in the study.

“Our data suggest tobacco shops may constitute nuisance properties associated with dangerous neighborhood conditions for crime and violence in South LA, and perhaps similar low-income urban communities of color,” the study, published online this week and scheduled to run in the March 2018 edition the journal Preventive Medicine, found.

In contrast, the authors suggested that several factors might account for lower crime rates found near medical cannabis dispensaries:

“(1) presence of visible property safeguards (e.g., security cameras), which may lower dispensary-related violence, (2) visual anonymity of many MMDs to passers-by including potential offenders, and (3) MMDs’ tendency to close or relocate quickly—e.g., by June 2015, few MMDs operated at their 2014 locations.”

The study analyzed 2014 crime data to examine the geography of all felony property and violent crimes occurring within 100, 200, 500, and 1,000-foot buffers of the three legal drug outlet types across South Los Angeles.

The researchers also looked at grocery and convenience stores that sell alcohol and tobacco, finding that those places had much lower nearby crime rates than the dedicated alcohol- and tobacco-specific retail outlets.

That result suggests that crime rates surrounding cannabis sales locations could be even lower if adults were able to purchase the drug at regular retail stores instead of having to go to marijuana-only dispensaries that are often forced to operate on a cash-only basis due to ongoing federal prohibition.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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