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New RAND report suggests marijuana and crime don't go hand and hand

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Results of a recent RAND study challenge the assumption that medical marijuana dispensaries promote crime, a rationale often cited to justify their closure.

The Santa Monica-based think tank conducted what they called a 'thorough and independent' examination of crime rates near medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles.

In their report,titled "Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries: An Overview with Preliminary Evidence of Their Impact on Crime," RAND found that crime rates actually increased in neighborhoods where pot shops were shut down, defying many people's expectations.

RAND tracked the crime rates for 10 days prior to June 7, 2010 when the city ordered the closure of more than 70 percent of the city’s medical marijuana and 10 days following their closure. The findings showed that there was as much as a 60 percent bump in crime in some of the neighborhoods where the dispensaries were shut down as compared to the areas where they remained open.

Jane Usher, special assistant city attorney with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office claims the science is fundamentally flawed because the dispensaries didn’t shut down. Usher told KPCC’s Patt Morrison that she has asked RAND to “withdrawal their study, retract it or substantially amend it,” and she questioned whether the science can be fixed.

“Their study assumes that the 435 illegal dispensaries were open till June 7, 2010 and that they closed, and stayed closed, for the following 10 days. […] that isn’t what happened. By in large, the dispensaries stayed open the entire interval, or they opened or closed sporadically, defying any analysis,” she said.

Usher couched her criticism of the study in by saying her office still has tremendous respect for RAND.

“We need their participation on this and every other social science topic. But I have to say that there’s not one of us that’s advantaged if government bases its policies on garbage science,” she said.

Jacobson responded to the City Attorney's assertion, saying they have quotes the city attorney’s office made during the closure that revealed compliance was quite high.

“They’re saying 50 to 70 places are saying they were open. This is out of over 400 that were ordered to close,” she said.

Jacobson said that she feels some misunderstand RAND’s statistical approach.

“The method that we use really requires that at least one of those dispensaries closed as a result of those orders,” she said, adding that “it’s going to be an underestimate.”

It seems that RAND has no plan to comply with Usher’s request to make changes to the study.

“If we receive information to suggest that there is something wrong with our findings or something that we misunderstood or didn’t have access to, we will review it. But at present, we feel pretty confident with the results,” Jacobson said.


Mireille Jacobson, the lead author of the medical marijuana study conducted by the RAND Corporation

Jane Usher, special assistant City Attorney with the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organziation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and co-author of the book "Marijuana is Safer, so why are we Driving People to Drink?"

Tim Rosales, former campaign manager, "No on 19" campaign. Proposition 19 was the initiative to legalize marijuana that was on the November 2, 2010 California statewide ballot.