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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Smoke and Mirrors? Examining the Relationship Between Medical Cannabis Dispensaries and Crime


Medical cannabis dispensaries (MCDs) are storefront businesses that distributecannabis to qualified patients for medical purposes. Opponents of MCDs have criticized policiesin California and other states that allow for storefront distribution of the drug, which they allegeattracts crime. Proponents contend that some MCDs actually reduce crime in their communities.This study seeks to evaluate these competing claims by analyzing crime rates, MCD density, andother neighborhood characteristics across 189 census tracts in San Francisco using data for theyear 2010. Lists of reported crimes obtained from the San Francisco Police Department areclassified into two categories: violent crimes (assault and robbery) and property crimes (arson,burglary, larceny-theft, vandalism, and motor vehicle theft). Location data for 26 MCDs and atotal of 43,688 reported crimes are geocoded and aggregated into census tracts. Regressionanalysis is used to test for the criminogenic effects of MCD density and three “exogenoussources of social disorganization”: socioeconomic disadvantage, family disruption, andresidential instability. Findings indicate a weak relationship between MCD density and nearbycrime, casting doubt on the claim that MCDs are magnets for criminal activity.

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