By EJ Dickson
For years, opponents of marijuana legalization have voiced the same arguments whenever the subject of dispensaries comes up: having legal cannabis vendors, they say, promotes the spread of crime, brings property values down in the neighborhood and encourages teenage marijuana use. And even though the push for marijuana legalization has gained widespread national support, these arguments against dispensaries have held sway.
A new study, however, attempts to debunk the link between cannabis stores and crime once and for all. Authored by the marijuana website Leafly in conjunction with the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, the review considered more than 100 studies, eventually identifying 42 studies, surveys and research papers on the impact cannabis retailers have had on the surrounding communities. What the authors found was that despite many community members’ concerns about having cannabis dispensaries in their neighborhood, the data indicated that licensed cannabis dispensaries have been linked to either decreased crime rates or no changes in crime rate in a given area, as well as increased property values and a decrease in teenage marijuana use.
In the larger context of the conversation surrounding legalization, the issue of how state cannabis laws are locally enforced is not often discussed. Yet many cities and counties have ordinances banning or restricting the opening of cannabis dispensaries, even if they are in one of the 10 states (plus Washington, D.C.) where recreational marijuana use is legal for adults, according to David Downs, an editor for Leafly who co-authored the report. In California, for instance, where both recreational and medicinal cannabis use is legal, nearly 75% of jurisdictions have banned marijuana stores, with many city councils citing a concern over cannabis dispensaries leading to an increase in crime rates.
These fears primarily stem from the early days of medical marijuana legalization, when there were fewer regulations governing medical marijuana dispensaries. “Imagine if a liquor store opened up in your neighborhood without any liquor licensing. There’d be parking impacts, there’d be traffic, there’d be pedestrians, and neighbors get upset,” Downs said. “[A] lot of the public safety myths are tied to those early, unregulated medical licensees,” citing the proliferation of illegal and unregulated marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles as an example.