Exploring the ecological association between crime and medical marijuana dispensaries

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2012 Jul;73(4):523-30. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2012.73.523.


Objective: Routine activities theory purports that crime occurs in places with a suitable target, motivated offender, and lack of guardianship. Medical marijuana dispensaries may be places that satisfy these conditions, but this has not yet been studied. The current study examined whether the density of medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with crime.

Method: An ecological, cross-sectional design was used to explore the spatial relationship between density of medical marijuana dispensaries and two types of crime rates (violent crime and property crime) in 95 census tracts in Sacramento, CA, during 2009. Spatial error regression methods were used to determine associations between crime rates and density of medical marijuana dispensaries, controlling for neighborhood characteristics associated with routine activities.

Results: Violent and property crime rates were positively associated with percentage of commercially zoned areas, percentage of one-person households, and unemployment rate. Higher violent crime rates were associated with concentrated disadvantage. Property crime rates were positively associated with the percentage of population 15-24 years of age. Density of medical marijuana dispensaries was not associated with violent or property crime rates.

Conclusions: Consistent with previous work, variables measuring routine activities at the ecological level were related to crime. There were no observed cross-sectional associations between the density of medical marijuana dispensaries and either violent or property crime rates in this study. These results suggest that the density of medical marijuana dispensaries may not be associated with crime rates or that other factors, such as measures dispensaries take to reduce crime (i.e., doormen, video cameras), may increase guardianship such that it deters possible motivated offenders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • California
  • Crime* / economics
  • Crime* / prevention & control
  • Crime* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / economics
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking* / economics
  • Marijuana Smoking* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Models, Statistical
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Unemployment
  • Urban Population
  • Violence
  • Young Adult