RAND Corp. retracts pot dispensary crime study

The RAND Corporation today retracted the study it had released last month questioning the long-held law enforcement assertion that medical marijuana dispensaries contribute to neighborhood crime.

The study of 600 marijuana dispensaries – some of which shut down, some of which stayed open – over a three-week period in 2010 had indicated crime actually rises in surrounding neighborhoods when dispensaries close. “Overall crime increased almost 60 percent in the blocks surrounding closed clinics in the ten days following their closing,” the report had said.

It was immediately touted by medical marijuana advocates from coast to coast as evidence that police complaints of criminal activity at or near dispensaries were bogus. Law enforcement replied the study was too small a sample over too short a time.

RAND announced Monday that questions raised after the study’s publication prompted the prominent think tank “to undertake an unusual post-publication internal review of the study,” its press release said. “That review determined the crime data used in the analysis are insufficient to answer the questions targeted by the study.”

In fact, RAND said, the big problem with the study was that the data described as covering the city of Los Angeles and surrounding areas did not include crime data reported by the Los Angeles Police Department. RAND researchers will conduct a new analysis after gathering adequate crime data, a process that could take many more weeks.

“This was a rare failure of our peer review system,” said Debra Knopman, vice president of the RAND Infrastructure, Safety and Environment division. “We take our commitment to quality and objectivity seriously so we have retracted the study in order to correct it.”

We’ll have a full story on this later today: I’ll be talking to the RAND folks in about an hour, and have reached out to law enforcement and medical-marijuana advocates for comment.

UPDATE @ 3:10 P.M.: Click here to read the full story.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Uh, never mind!

  • John W

    “Overall crime increased almost 60% in the blocks surrounding the closed clinics in the 10 days following their closing.”

    Oh brother! Common sense says that observation is at least as misleading as the earlier conclusion.

    There is a low probability of any statistically significant change in crime rates within a brief 10-day window as the result of either opening or closing a weed store (oh, excuse me, “clinic”). It would take longer than that for any noticeable change, one way or the other.

    Anytime you have clusters of empty stores on a darkened street, crime will rise, whether they are weed stores or hardware stores. Just look at “Mid-Market” in San Francisco a simililarly distressed retail areas in any community.

    Some of the seedier weed stores in seedy neighborhoods probably add to the crime problem. “Classier” ones in stable neighborhoods probably don’t. I doubt the “study” or “review” controlled for any variables other than whether or not a store opened or closed.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    As the late Saul Alinsky once said: A [social scientist] needs a $20,000 [1960s numbers] grant to find a whorehouse.

  • John W

    I once (many many many moons ago) worked as a policy analyst for a university-based research center in St. Louis, with lots of grants from NASA. We would often quote RAND reports as part of our “reseach.” They, in turn, would quote our reports. Then, NASA and their contractors would quote both of us to help justify funding for projects. Sort of a university-government-industrial complex.

  • Elenin

    The statistics I would like to see;
    + or – Sales of hard alcohol
    + or – Sales of beer/wine
    + or – Sales of over the counter drugs + or – Sales of prescription drugs
    + or – Sales of tobacco
    More or less DWI arrests