Leafly study debunks dispensary myths around crime & teen use

Published on May 13, 2019 · Last updated February 22, 2022

Evidence-based studies refute dispensary fears

When a state legalizes cannabis, local municipal officials are put in a tough spot: they have the power to allow or prohibit cannabis stores from opening in their jurisdiction. It’s done through property zoning.

Once the issue comes up for vote, the discussion is often dominated by imagined fears. Law enforcement leaders warn about crime increases. Parents worry about their kids having easier access to cannabis. Real estate agents forecast doom for any neighborhood surrounding a cannabis store. Pew Research has found a 25 point gap between support for legalization (75%), and support for a store nearby (50%).

A review of the research finds that cannabis dispensaries improve public safety, health, and nearby property values—contrary to previous fears.

All too often, the result is a complete ban on cannabis stores—which has the unintentional effect of propping up the local illicit market. Here’s the rub: Cannabis stores actually improve public safety, health, and property values, a finding supported by research.

In a review of 42 key studies, Leafly’s team of data analysts, researchers, and editors found that the broad body of published research suggests crime near licensed dispensaries has generally stayed flat or decreased. Teen cannabis use in legalization states has fallen since legalization. And property values near cannabis outlets generally are not affected or even rise.

Leafly’s report examined 42 published studies on the effects of cannabis medical dispensaries and adult-use stores. (Click to download.)

Click here to download ‘Debunking Dispensary Myths’

That literature review, “Debunking Dispensary Myths,” is intended to better inform civic debate at the city, state, and national levels. Leafly is sharing the report with elected officials, legislative aides, activists, industry groups, and researchers nationwide, as well as presenting the findings at upcoming events.

Fears surrounding local cannabis stores have prompted many communities to prohibit cannabis companies in their towns, cities, and counties. Millions of adult consumers now living in legal states find it impossible to purchase legally in their own towns.

Leafly found that as of May 1, 2019:

  • In California, 75% of jurisdictions have banned cannabis stores.
  • In Colorado, 65% of cities and counties have similar bans.
  • In Massachusetts, 54% of the state’s 351 municipalities have banned cannabis stores.
  • In Washington, 35% of cities and 20% of counties have banned cannabis stores.
  • In Nevada, 75% of counties and 42% of cities prohibit cannabis stores.

Clean stores, good neighbors

In Colorado and Washington, where data is now available from five years of adult-use cannabis sales, many local officials have switched from hesitance to confidence in the positive benefits of well-regulated stores. Cannabis companies “are tremendous employers and socially responsible members of the communities in which they operate,” said Ron Kammerzell, former senior director of enforcement at the Colorado Dept. of Revenue.

The Lux cannabis store in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood is the cleanest, brightest property in a transitional business district. (Photo courtesy of Lux)

Dispensaries add 6% to 8% to home values

Some of the data backing up that conclusion:

  • Crime rates unaffected: An overwhelming majority of studies—including one from the journal Preventive Medicine in 2018, and a Federal Reserve Bank 2017 paper—found no increase in crime related to the location of medical marijuana dispensaries or adult-use retail stores.
  • Teen use unaffected specifically, declines generally: Colorado and Oregon state health reports show teen cannabis use is flat or down since licensed adult-use stores opened. In Washington, a 2018 JAMA Pediatrics study concluded use had fallen. Federally administered surveys show the 2016 teen use rate was the lowest in more than 20 years.
  • Property values increase: A 2016 study in the journal Economic Inquiry concluded allowing stores added 6% to city home prices, compared to ban towns. A 2018 study in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy found home prices went up by 7.7% within a half-mile of a new cannabis store

“Debunking Dispensary Myths” identifies and examines the most reliable studies on medical and adult-use cannabis stores. In the report, Leafly editors David Downs and Bruce Barcott worked with cannabis policy expert Dominic Corva, co-director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research (HIIMR) at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA.

Over the coming years, virtually every city council and county supervisorial board will eventually have to weigh the pros and cons of cannabis retail.“We can all have different opinions, but we have to work from the same set of facts,” said Leafly CEO Tim Leslie. “These discussions should be informed by the best available research, not imagined fears and archaic mythology.”

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David Downs and Bruce Barcott
David Downs and Bruce Barcott
David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as Leafly's California bureau chief. Bruce Barcott is Leafly's senior editor for news and investigations.
View David Downs and Bruce Barcott's articles
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