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Crime and Collectives—It Ain’t Necessarily So

By Lanny Swerdlow, RN, LNC

As a nurse working in cannabis therapeutics, I recognize the critical importance of the use of marijuana for the health of the individual and the community. It is essential




By Lanny Swerdlow, RN, LNC

As a nurse working in cannabis therapeutics, I recognize the critical importance of the use of marijuana for the health of the individual and the community. It is essential that people wanting to use cannabis have safe, reliable and local access. Under the current statutory scheme in California, the only legal way patients can obtain marijuana is too grow their own, have their primary caregiver grow for them or join a collective.

Most people do not grow their own tomatoes and most people do not grow their own marijuana. Collectives are the only legal means for the vast majority of patients to obtain this plant material. Yet most cities and counties are banning collectives under their zoning ordinances using the justification that medical marijuana collectives cause an increase in crime and hence are a nuisance that must be abated.

To bolster this argument, the White Paper issued by the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) is almost always cited. Enumerating multiple instances of robberies, burglaries and even murders as proof that collectives are magnets for crime, the report concludes that medical marijuana collectives must not be allowed or the safety of the community is endangered. Of course, expecting a fair and balanced analysis about anything related to marijuana from the CPCA is like expecting a fair and balanced nutritional analysis of a T-bone steak by PETA.

A glaring omission from the report is the statistics comparing crime rates in areas with collectives to areas without collectives or before collectives opened. It would seem the CPCA would have those statistics and I think they do. They are not sharing them with anyone because they didn’t like the way the numbers turned out.

In a January 2010 article in the LA Daily News, Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck spoke about the oft-repeated assertion that medical marijuana collectives cause an increase in crime. “I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra. It doesn’t really bear out.” Beck said he had asked for a report on robberies at dispensaries and banks because a comparison of those two types of businesses seemed appropriate because of their similarities as potential targets—both have large sums of cash and are often heavily fortified.

Beck reported that the study showed “banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries.” The study revealed reports of 71 robberies at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to only 47 robberies at medical marijuana facilities which number at least 800.

Beck acknowledged that the study did not determine whether dispensaries cause an increase in crime in their immediate areas as the study did not look at property surrounding banks and dispensaries.

A report from the Denver, Colorado Police Department did.

The report, issued by Chief Tracie Keesee, Division Chief of Research for the Denver Department of Safety, looked at “reported offenses located within a 1,000 foot buffer around dispensaries that have an effective/commerce date before Dec. 1, 2009.”

What the report found was certainly not the mantra either.

“Comparing December 2009 to December 2008, reported offenses decreased by 3.7 percent in a 1,000 foot area around medical marijuana dispensaries that had an open/commence date prior to December 1, 2009. Reported offenses in the City and County of Denver decreased by 1 percent during the same period.”

That is a significant difference. So significant that if it were the other way around with the city having a 3.7 percent decrease in crime and the areas around dispensaries only a 1 percent decrease, anti-marijuana drug warriors would see to it that every newspaper and broadcast news show across the nation featured local police exhibiting these figures as all the proof needed for cities to declare them a nuisance and ban them under their zoning laws.

You won’t see them though. Far from validating the nearly hysterical claims of soaring crime rates inducing neighborhood disintegration, the report categorically demonstrated that operating a medical marijuana collective in a neighborhood can reduce crime. Police, however, continue to insist that collectives cause crime and, since they are the police, everyone believes them—statistics, reason, rationality and truth be damned.

There are some very good reasons why a person might reasonably expect crime to decrease where a medical marijuana collective opens. Medical marijuana collectives significantly increase pedestrian traffic. Robbers and burglars tend to favor those areas with fewer people around.

I am convinced that the main reason is that people who use marijuana are less likely to cause problems for the community because of the well-known stress reducing, compassion enhancing and tolerance inducing outcome of marijuana usage.

You can get a copy of the Denver Police report by sending me an email at Print out a copy, take it to your neighborhood crime watch meeting and tell them how glad they should be that you are opening a collective nearby.

Lanny Swerdlow, RN, LNC, hosts “Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense” every Monday at 6PM on Inland Empire talk radio station KCAA 1050AM and simulcast at He can be reached at (760) 799-2055 or by email at