Lonnie M. Schaible PhD Associate Professor School of Public Affairs University of Colorado Denver, CO

What Happens to Crime Rates When Marijuana Dispensaries Open in the Neighborhood?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Lonnie M. Schaible PhD Associate Professor School of Public Affairs University of Colorado Denver, CO

Dr. Schaible

Lonnie M. Schaible PhD
Associate Professor
School of Public Affairs
University of Colorado
Denver, CO

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Following legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado, strong — but unsubstantiated — claims were being made about crime surrounding marijuana dispensaries.  We wanted to know what the data would show.  We were especially interested in determining whether the addition of recreational facilities had any effects above and beyond those which might exist for medical dispensaries.  To better capture the dynamic landscape of marijuana legalization, this is the first study to control for the prior existence of medical dispensaries and assess how effects of both of these types of establishments changed over time.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: Findings indicate that, except for murder and auto theft, both medical and recreational dispensaries are associated with statistically significant increases in rates of neighborhood crime and disorder; however, these effects seem to diminish significantly over time suggesting that any effects of dispensaries are likely a product of adaptation and change as recreational dispensaries are introduced into neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods with dispensaries seem to adapt to these changes to better manage any associate crime issues over time.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: While some initial increases in crime might be expected as a result of the establishment of dispensaries at the neighborhood level, the weak strength typical of the observed relationships suggests that, if Denver’s experience is representative, major long-term spikes in crime are unlikely to occur in other places following legalization.  Any adverse consequences of dispensaries could likely be proactively averted by collaborating with the marijuana industry to institute policies and practices that avert potential unintended consequences.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Replication is needed with alternative methods, measures, units of analysis, and in other jurisdictions with different policies/guidelines for retail marijuana establishments.  Future research should also consider how the internal operations and security procedures of dispensaries effect neighborhood crime. 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: As with all studies, caution should be exercised in over-generalizing results.  As we teach our students in the Criminal Justice programs at UC Denver, research yields the most useful and valid results when a body of literature is considered as a whole, rather than relying on the results of a single study such as ours.


Lorine A. Hughes, Lonnie M. Schaible & Katherine Jimmerson (2019) Marijuana Dispensaries and Neighborhood Crime and Disorder in Denver, Colorado, Justice Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/07418825.2019.1567807

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Last Updated on February 22, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD