Marijuana shops attract non-violent crime - study

Marijuana has been completely legal in Colorado for just over three years (Getty)
Marijuana has been completely legal in Colorado for just over three years (Getty)

Legal weed shops increase crime in nearby areas just like bars and bottle stores, a new study has found.

But the type of offending they appear to attract is markedly different.

Ohio State University researchers looked at three years of data collected in Denver, Colorado, where recreational use has been legal since January 2014.

They found property crime jumped in areas that bordered a suburb with a marijuana dispensary. It did not matter if the outlet dealt with recreational sales, medicinal use, or both.

The immediate vicinity of each outlet saw no equivalent jump, which lead author Bridget Freisthler put down to security.

"The areas we examined in our study were relatively small (about a third of a square mile), so a guard could conceivably be keeping criminals away from the neighbourhood directly surrounding the outlets."

While the effect on property crime was almost identical to that linked to alcohol sales, the latter had a far bigger effect on violent crime.

"Alcohol outlets... were responsible for about four times more violent crimes during the 34 months of the study than those that sold marijuana," the study found.

There are still far fewer places to buy marijuana than alcohol, even in Denver, which Dr Freisthler says gives communities a reason to be cautious about legal marijuana sales.

"There are definitely negative public health consequences, including increased crime. There may be economic benefits in terms of more tax revenue and money spent in neighbourhoods. Citizens have to decide how they want to measure the benefits and costs."

No jump in crime was noted after recreational use became legal, but the study notes the shift from medicinal-only to complete legalisation didn't result in an increased number of outlets, because only those already selling medicinal marijuana were awarded licences to sell for recreational use.

The study's findings were published Thursday in The Journal of Primary Prevention