A nonprofit think tank retracted a widely reported study that linked last year’s closing of hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles to a rise in crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods.
Medical marijuana dispensaries with rooms of high-priced marijuana and cash registers brimming with cash are often seen as magnets for crime, a perception deepened by a few high-profile murders. But a report from the Rand Corp. reaches a startling conclusion: The opposite appears to be true.
Santa Monica-based Rand Corp. said in a statement that questions raised after the study was released last month prompted an unusual internal review.
Researchers relied on a commercial crime mapping service, believing it included information from various jurisdictions, including the Los Angeles Police Department. However, that agency did not give data to the service.
Researchers with the Santa Monica-based think tank used crime data compiled by a firm that collects information from about 1,200 law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but not the LAPD.
“That review determined the crime data used in the analysis are insufficient to answer the questions targeted by the study,” the statement said.
The study looked at crime reports for neighborhoods surrounding 600 dispensaries in the 10 days before and 10 days after Los Angeles officials shuttered the pot clinics last summer after a new ordinance went into effect. The analysis showed crime increased about 60 percent within three blocks of a closed dispensary compared with those that remained open.
Ironically, the report found that the further away from the clinics, the less crimes were committed.
The Los Angeles city attorney’s office called the study deeply flawed and demanded the retraction. Rand pulled the study from its website earlier this month.
“The city attorney’s office believes that retracting the study was the right thing for Rand to do and we are pleased they were receptive to our concerns regarding the study’s flaws,” said city attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan. “The public interest and public safety is always better served when we use accurate and credible information.”
“What I would take away from it is maybe there should just be a little bit less fear about having dispensaries,” said Mireille Jacobson, a health economist who was the lead researcher. “Hopefully, this injects a little bit of science into the discussion.”
Rand researchers plan to conduct a new analysis when they have adequate data.
Rand relied on a “commercial crime mapping service.” Even before this service obtained new data after the clinics were closed that didn’t support their initial “findings,” it seems to me that crime data would be flawed unless it can provide a direct correlation between the existence of these clinics and crimes committed in the area. It would be difficult to prove that a particular crime was committed because of the existence of a marijuana clinic unless a direct link can be made back to the clinic. Even if they had used LAPD police reports and crime statistics, this information would seem generic at best.
Perhaps, in their next study, they should consider using undercover investigators to gather information on several factors of the activities in the area (reported and unreported criminal activities). This might provide more information outside of only adding up police crime reports.