Shoppers make their purchases at Cultivate in Leicester, Mass on November 20, 2018 (Credit: Brit Smith/Blunt Talk on WBZ NewsRadio).
BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — It’s been just over four months since Massachusetts got its first recreational cannabis shops. The ramp-up to Rec included dozens of town meetings, where locals voiced their concerns about the possible uptick in crime that a pot shop could bring.
Now we’ve got some data under our belts, we thought it was time to look into what kind of a neighbor you’d get if a marijuana dispensary does open in your neck of the woods.
In December 2018, Leicester MA became one of the first towns east of the Mississippi River to get a recreational cannabis store.
According to Boston 25’s Investigative team, Leicester’s police chief has had “very few reports of any incidents” concerning the shop Cultivate. After the first week or two of traffic issues, there have been “no real complaints” there, the Town Administrator adding that “we have a local big box retailer that keeps us a lot more busy than Cultivate ever would.”
Cultivate, did have to call the cops once about an unruly protester outside. Over in Northampton where the other recreational shop, NETA, opened on day one of sales, police had to deal with another protester who made some threats against the sale of drugs.
In Salem, authorities were called to question a would-be entrepreneur who was trying to sell marijuana to people in line waiting outside the store. Otherwise, in Massachusetts communities with cannabis for sale, most calls to police are about traffic and parking.
And in Brookline neighbors generally report traffic being their only main concern, after NETA opened the first Rec shop in Greater Boston. Long lines? Maybe. Increased crime? Not so far.
Of course, Massachusetts is fairly new to the cannabis shop game. There’s more data to be found on towns with shops in other states. A study by the Institute of Labor Economics looked into crime in California towns with pot dispensaries, dating back to 1996 when the first medical store opened.
That study found “no significant impact of dispensaries on violent crime in any of our models.” On top of that, in 5-6 percent of counties with marijuana dispensaries, there was actually a decrease in property crime rates.
A decrease, you say?! What’s going on there? Well, cannabis shops are probably the safest buildings on the block. Due to so many legal regulations, any cannabis business has to have an overload of security features; surveillance cameras, lights, door and safe locks, ID checks, police details outside.
Hardly a prime target for criminals. In fact the stores are so well secured, the Institute of Labor Economics study noted that dispensaries are actually helping to “reduce crime by reducing vacant buildings and putting more security in these areas.”
Add to that, the study by the National Association of Retailers, which concluded “more than three quarters of members have not seen a change in residential property values near dispensaries.” Ten-percent of homeowners near pot shops have seen an increase to the value of their property. How about commercial real estate values, I hear you ask? That same study says in towns with medical marijuana, realtors saw a 34-percent increase in warehouse demand, 31-percent in storefront demand, and 18-percent increase in land demand. This is a new economy, after all.
Just for comparison's sake, let’s look at rates of crime in towns with alcohol and tobacco stores. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, another study from California found violent crime and property crime both increased substantially within areas around an exclusively alcohol/tobacco shop.
Their conclusion; “Tobacco shops may attract crime in low-income cities of color.”
Along with a steady or lowering rate of crime near cannabis stores, there is also the job creation it brings to a town. Then there are the taxes collected from sales of the product, which go right back into both the state and the local municipalities’ pockets. Most of that tax money will go to paving local roads, bettering local schools, scholarships, and health programs.
Massachusetts Recreational dispensaries also have a legal obligation to give back to communities that were hit hardest by the War on Drugs Campaign of 1971.
For example in Brookline, NETA is turning to Roxbury Community College to hire interns, so they can educate the next generation of legal cannabis workers.
Whether or not you agree with the premise of allowing the legal sale of cannabis, there is now incredibly strong evidence that shows towns that allow cannabis shops to open do not see an increase in criminal behavior.
Blunt Talk is a podcast about cannabis hosted by Brit Smith every Monday. You can listen to all previous podcasts on iHeartRadio.