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Study: When You Shut Down a Dispensary, the Neighborhood Goes to Pot [UPDATED]

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A new study shows that shutting down pot dispensaries could actually increase crime in neighborhoods — a finding that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Local politicians have wrestled with the proliferation of pot clinics throughout the county and created laws to limit them, arguing that dispensaries are magnets for crime.

But the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Santa Monica, pokes holes in that argument [Update: Not so fast! The think tank later retracted its study]. It found that when dispensaries were shut down, reported crime actually increased 60 percent. The study looked at crime reports in a 3-block radius in the 10 days before many city clinics were shut down on June 7, 2010 and in the 10 days after the clinics were shut down. It compared the crime reports of clinics that remained open to those that shuttered.

"If medical marijuana dispensaries are causing crime, then there should be a drop in crime when they close," Mireille Jacobson, the study's lead author and a senior economist at RAND, told The Los Angeles Daily News. "Individual dispensaries may attract crime or create a neighborhood nuisance, but we found no evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries in general cause crime to rise."

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Jacobson has a couple of theories about why crime shot up: the loss of foot traffic, a resurgence in illegal drug activity or a loss of security provided by dispensaries. But local law enforcement are taking the study with a grain of salt.

"(Dispensaries) are a center for crime," Detective Robert Holcomb of LAPD's Narcotics Enforcement Detail in the San Fernando Valley told The Daily News. "Look at it from a criminal standpoint: Here is a location that you know contains narcotics, money so what better location to rob?"

The City Attorney's office took issue with the study methodology: new pot shops could have popped up nearby during the study or the shops could have been already been closed before the study began. The dispensaries themselves could have accounted for the spike in crime, spokesman Frank Mateljan suggested. Disgruntled clientele, fire sales to get rid of the remaining wares and in-fighting between collective members could have caused the crime.

Jacobson admitted that a 21-day study only offers up preliminary findings. A longer, more comprehensive study would help inform legislation on how to regulate medical marijuana.