Rates of crime in communities where state-licensed cannabis dispensaries have been opened in the US have been found by a recent study not to rise, but in fact, stay neutral.
Opponents to the legalisation of cannabis and to the introduction of retail cannabis stores often express concerns that crime will increase as a result. A recent poll found that crime, specifically drug crime and driving offences are the biggest worries amongst members of the American public when it comes to cannabis legalisation.
“Many North American jurisdictions have legalized the operation of recreational marijuana dispensaries. A common concern is that dispensaries may contribute to local crime… The random assignment of recreational marijuana retail licenses in Washington State provides a unique opportunity to identify the causal effect of dispensary openings on local crime.” The study authors state.
Intending to fill the gap in research and information surrounding crime rates and dispensary openings, researchers from John Hopkins University and the University of Hawaii published a study this month in The Annals of Regional Science. They examined crime rates in three of Washington State’s biggest cities around the time dispensaries were being opened and contrasted to crime rates in areas where there was no dispensary at the same time.
The study focused on Washington State due to the lottery system used there to allocate licenses to dispensaries, this created a unique situation in which some communities had no dispensary while others did. According to the study, this helped by “providing a natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of dispensaries on neighbourhood-level crime”.
Although results did show an estimated small increase in property crime in low-income communities, overall, researchers concluded that the opening of state-licensed cannabis dispensaries did not have a negative effect on crime rates.
In their conclusion, the authors wrote, “Combining lottery data with detailed geocoded crime data, we estimate that the presence of a dispensary has no significant impact on local crime in the average neighborhood. We estimate a small rise in property crime in low-income neighborhoods specifically.”
Previous research has drawn similar conclusions. A study of crime data from Colorado and Washington in 2022 also found no correlation between rising crime rates and the introduction of cannabis dispensaries in local areas. “These findings substantiate prior research. Increased crime rates should not be a primary concern as more states move to adopt recreational marijuana use legislation. Instead, the benefits to states via harm reduction, increased tax revenue, and a more efficient allocation of policing resources” researchers said.