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Study Finds Crime in Denver Increased Near New Marijuana Dispensaries

A new study found that nonviolent crimes increased on Denver street segments where recreational marijuana dispensaries opened.

The study, published in Justice Evaluation Journal, was co-authored by Ph.D. students Nathan Connealy and Dave Hatten, along with Professor Eric Piza (John Jay College, The Graduate Center).

Their analysis found that property crime (like burglary and theft) rose 18% on street segments where recreational marijuana dispensaries set up shop. On street segments adjacent to recreational dispensaries, drug crimes rose by about 28% and “disorder” crimes (like criminal mischief and graffiti) rose 17%.

The researchers looked at crime in the three years before recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado (2011-2013) and in the three years after legalization (2014-2016).

Control data showed that drug and disorder crimes increased at a similar rate on street segments without marijuana shops.

The researchers speculated that some of the increase could potentially be the result of stepped-up enforcement. In other words, police might be making more arrests now or patrolling areas near dispensaries differently for activity that has existed all along.

While the study could potentially provide fodder for opponents of legalization, the researchers took pains to point out that local crime also goes up when the liquor stores and bars open. And yet, they wrote, “we are unaware of any large-scale efforts to decrease the number of liquor licenses cities issue. To the contrary, alcohol outlets are common fixtures in urban development and revitalization efforts … Given the recent changes in public attitudes towards marijuana, a similar acceptance of recreational marijuana dispensaries may be present amongst the public even amidst crime related concerns.”

The study found no increase in violent crime associated with recreational dispensaries.

The analysis also found no increase in crime associated with medical marijuana dispensaries. The researchers speculated that could be because medical marijuana was legalized before recreational marijuana, and those businesses may have more experience with security and deterrence. Due to more restrictive purchase requirements, they may also attract a different clientele.

The study included a cost-benefit analysis that found revenue from recreational marijuana largely offset costs associated with law enforcement and victim losses. For every $1 in costs related to property crime, dispensaries recorded $309 in sales revenue and $13 in tax revenue. For every $1 in costs related to drug and disorder crimes, the shops generated $28 in sales and $1.18 in tax revenue. 

Beyond SUM

Work By

Nathan Connealy (Ph.D. student , Criminal Justice ) | Profile 1
Dave Hatten (Ph.D. student , Criminal Justice ) | Profile 1
Eric Piza (Associate Professor, Criminal Justice) | Profile 1