One of the key arguments against legalizing marijuana is that doing so increases crime. This logic is apparently part of the rationale behind the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions–who has infamously compared marijuana to heroin–in setting up a task force to study the links between violent crime and marijuana. The task force idea is part of Sessions’ effort to crack down on states (eight of them in the past year alone) that have allowed the recreational or medical use of marijuana, despite the fact that 59 percent of Americans support legalizing weed.
But there’s just one problem. According to a recent study by UC Irvine, not only is there no evidence that legalizing marijuana dispensaries leads to an increase of crime in the surrounding area, but the exact opposite is true. In fact, cracking down on marijuana and shutting down dispensaries leads to an increase of crime, not the other way around. The UC Irvine study focused on what happened when city officials in Los Angeles recently shut down some 200 dispensaries.
“Contrary to popular wisdom, a significant increase in crime occurs in the blocks immediately surrounding a closed dispensary, compared to those allowed to stay open,” says one of the report’s co-authors, Mireille Jacobson, an associate professor of economics and public policy at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business. ”We found a similar pattern of results for temporary restaurant closures due to health code violations. Retail establishments may play an important role in crime prevention because there are more ‘eyes upon the street.’ People provide a natural form of incidental surveillance that can increase public safety.”
In other words, the evidence actually bolsters what marijuana legalization advocates have been arguing for years: taking marijuana transactions out of the hands of street dealers and into storefront dispensaries that operate legally under state law actually increases public safety. Take that a step further and provide city licenses to these shops–as many jurisdictions including Santa Ana have done–and you can actually tax the dispensaries and raise revenue that further enables municipalities to protect public safety. So much for the logic behind cracking down on marijuana, which will become legal to use recreationally for all adult Californians in January 2018, assuming Trump doesn’t allow Sessions to set our nation back 2o years by restarting the doomed and completely fraudulent war on drugs.
You can view the UCI report, which appears in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of Economics here, but you have to pay $35 to access it.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).