UCI marijuana study finds increased crime rates following L.A. pot dispensary closures

A new study co-written by a UC Irvine business professor has found no correlation between the closure of marijuana dispensaries and reduced crime rates near them.

Rather, it discovered the opposite.

The paper, written by UCI’s Mireille Jacobson and USC professor Tom Y. Chang, studied the sudden closures of dispensaries in Los Angeles in 2010. The writers found “immediate” crime increases — particularly property crime — near the dispensaries forced to close relative to the ones allowed to remain open.

As a comparative measure, Jacobson and Chang also studied the forced temporary closure of restaurants due to health code violations. They found similar crime increases when those types of business stopped operations.

The study examined 597 dispensaries within L.A. city limits. Crime data from the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Pilot’s parent, was used in the study. The paper included data from 888 restaurants closures in 2010.

Jacobson and Chang attribute the crime upticks to fewer “eyes upon the street,” noting that when the dispensaries and restaurants closed, it caused fewer people to go to those areas, which in turn likely became more attractive to criminals who could commit crimes there without being seen by bystanders.

In an interview, Jacobson said the study could help disprove the popular belief that marijuana dispensaries contribute to crime in neighborhoods.

She noted that her work’s suggestions are particularly timely considering recreational marijuana will be legal in California in 2018.

“I think jurisdictions are just going to have to get over the fear” of having dispensaries, Jacobson said. “They’re here and we’re going to have to deal with them.”

Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley have various levels of marijuana bans.

A voter-approved measure last year in Costa Mesa, however, is changing the pot scene in the City of the Arts.

Costa Mesa doesn’t permit cultivation or retail sales, but under a measure approved last year, a business area north of the 405 Freeway and west of Harbor Boulevard became zoned for wholesale medical marijuana distribution, manufacturing, processing and transporting, according to the city’s website. It’s also allowed to contain research and testing laboratories.

Laguna’s City Council reinforced its stance against marijuana of any kind with an ordinance adopted earlier this year. Laguna voters also rejected a proposal last fall that would have reversed the city’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and allowed two of them.

Huntington Beach’s Planning Commission is scheduled to review a ban on nonmedical marijuana commercial businesses July 25.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @BradleyZint

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