Do medical marijuana dispensaries draw crime to their surrounding communities? While recent headlines insinuate this, a coherant examination of crime statistics proves otherwise.
On Dec. 17th, The Denver Post devoted extensive coverage to medical marijuana. A front page story chronicled Denver's regulatory efforts and the local section was headlined by a piece titled "Pot clinic robbed by pair of men: Denver police report 25 medical-marijuana-related crimes in the last five months." While any robbery is traumatic and troubling, especially for its victims, it should also be evaluated in a larger context.
When it comes to medical marijuana's broader crime impact on Colorado's local communities, law enforcement officials caution against drawing premature conclusions. "There's no obvious trend at this point," Denver police spokesman Joe J. Ramirez told Denver Post reporter Howard Pankratz. "It appears to be just random. (Dispensaries) may represent an attractive target for the criminal element but we don't know that yet."
Consider this: while the Post was just one of many media outlets clamoring to cover this week's robbery, the same week saw a much more troubling trend, with as many as 10 bank robberies committed throughout the Denver region in just four days.
Reporters eager to project medical marijuana trends too often turn to the unsubstantiated conclusions of activist opponents for proof . Pankratz's report referenced an April study released by the California Police Chiefs Association concluding that "drugs, cash and often, guns are a dangerous mix, even when the marijuana sellers have a legal right to possess them."
Such a polemic must be put into context. According to the Colorado Bureau Investigation, Colorado saw 3,186 robberies and 26,597 burglaries reported to law enforcement agencies in 2008. If recent crime trends hold steady, we can easily conclude that dispensary-related crimes will amount to much less than one percent of all robberies and burglaries reported this year.
An industry-by-industry analysis also demonstrates that dispensary-related crime pales in comparison to crime targeting other industries. Banks are far more vulnerable targets, with a Colorado bank being robbed nearly every other day. According to the FBI, more than 160 banks have already been hit this year alone.
Pankratz also referenced statistics from the Los Angeles Police proclaiming that "robberies at or near medical-marijuana facilities had doubled since passage of California's Compassionate Use Act" in 1996. Of course they did. Prior to the act legalizing medical marijuana across California, the total number of such legal facilities stood at zero. Today, L.A. alone is home to nearly 200.
As a coalition of attorneys proud to represent medical marijuana caregivers and patients, we've witnessed firsthand the many challenges and opportunities that come with building a viable and legal industry that remains hindered by the misconceptions resulting from more than seven decades of federal marijuana prohibition. Our clients are hard working entrepreneurs. They pay their taxes on time, go above and beyond to ensure their facilities are welcoming, safe, secure, and private. They are bringing viable businesses to struggling commercial centers. They create jobs, pay much needed revenue to public coffers, and most importantly, they provide a valuable service to Colorado's sick and dying, many of whom seek out medical marijuana only after conventional pharmaceutical drugs fail to ease chronic and excruciating symptoms.
Medical marijuana is today's hot issue and one that generates tremendous reader interest. Ultimately, however, responsible journalism insists that the public be informed of the facts. Legal since 2000 in Colorado, no reliable evidence exists to prove that medical marijuana leads to increased crime. While previously, patients were forced into the dark alleyways of the black market to get their medicine, they can now obtain it from trusted caregivers who know them by name.
We will resist the temptation to rely on the events of the past week to conclude that a visit to the local bank could prove more dangerous than a visit to the local dispensary. Instead, we encourage our fellow Coloradoans to take a moment to look behind beyond the headlines. Medical marijuana means more jobs, more health care options, and more tax revenue. It does not, however, mean more violence.
By Jessica Corry, Lauren Davis, Robert Corry, Jr., and Bob Hoban
December 19, 2009