For a safer L.A., legalize marijuana?
Just what are those folks over at the Rand Corp. smoking?
In case you missed it, The Times' John Hoeffel reported Wednesday:
Medical marijuana dispensaries -- with storerooms of high-priced weed, registers brimming with cash and some clientele more interested in getting high than getting well -- are often seen as magnets for crime, a perception deepened by a few high-profile murders.
But a report from the Rand Corp. reaches a startling conclusion: The opposite appears to be true.
In a study of crime near Los Angeles dispensaries -- which the investigators call the most rigorous independent examination of its kind -- the Santa Monica-based think tank found that crime actually increased near hundreds of pot shops after they were required to close last summer.
Wow. You mean those folks at NORML could be right -– that the best way to win the war on drugs is to legalize marijuana?
In Tuesday's paper, there was a story about 35 bodies being dumped under an overpass on the outskirts of the Mexican port city of Veracruz; police said the victims were associated with organized crime and drug sales.
Do you suppose that maybe, just maybe, if marijuana were legal in the U.S., it would cut down on at least some of the drug-related violence in Mexico?
Of course, some L.A. law enforcement officials reacted to the Rand study like, well, like you would expect law enforcement officials to react:
The city attorney's office, which has argued in court proceedings that the number of dispensaries needs to be reduced to deal with "well-documented crime," called the report's conclusions "highly suspect and unreliable," saying that they were based on "faulty assumptions, conjecture, irrelevant data, untested measurements and incomplete results."
Not that the office offered any competing data, of course.
Then there was this:
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, strenuously disagreed with the report's conclusions.
"Every time we shut down a dispensary, the crime and the disorder decrease," he said.
Though again, there were no data. Plus, as the story said:
The report looks at such crimes as thefts and assaults, but not "disorder," nuisances such as loitering, double parking, loud noises and graffiti that sparked anger among neighborhood activists. Whitmore said those complaints are often what causes the department to act.
Finally, there was this Catch-22 angle:
Eagle Rock, which has about a dozen dispensaries, has long been one of the city's pot hot spots.
Michael Larsen, president of the neighborhood council, said he only knows of one dispensary-related crime -- an armed robbery -- but has heard countless complaints from irritated neighbors.
He said most of the dispensaries that initially closed last summer have reopened, defying the city.
"Our main concern is the crime of illegal dispensaries illegally selling marijuana," Larsen said. "That's the crime that we're concerned about."
So, there's a lot of crime around the Eagle Rock dispensaries -- if you mean by crime, the dispensaries are selling marijuana.
C'mon, folks, let's quit pretending -- and legalize marijuana. Yes, there would be problems. But really, after decades of trying and billions of dollars spent in the war on drugs, isn't it time for another way?
Plus, it's not like we couldn't use the tax money right now.
And if we can't legalize it, we can at least heed the words of Mireille Jacobson, a health economist who was the Rand study's lead researcher:
"What I would take away from it is maybe there should just be a little bit less fear about having dispensaries. Hopefully, this injects a little bit of science into the discussion."
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: An employee sorts merchandise at a Southern California medical marijuana dispensary. Credit: Los Angeles Times