About the Study

In 1996, California was the first state to pass a Compassionate Use Act which allowed for the legal use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Since then, 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation across the country (California NORML, 2011). In 2003, California Senate Bill 420 provided wording that allowed greater access of medical cannabis through collectives but didn’t create any specific guidelines for regulating them. Since then, localities have developed a variety of legislation designed to regulate these dispensaries in response to what has been perceived as an influx of crime in and around these dispensaries (California Police Chief’s Association, 2009). Despite these perceptions, no empirical studies have been conducted that examined how the opening and closing of these dispensaries change the ecological landscape of the neighborhoods in which they are located. The current study takes advantage of a natural quasi-experiment occurring in Los Angeles and Sacramento Cities to assess how both the growth of and subsequent reduction in these dispensaries has resulted in changes in crime and cannabis use and dependence over a thirteen-year period. This study is significant is that it will be one of the first to study how introduction of these dispensaries and their subsequent regulation to provide important information on how these dispensaries affect neighborhood ecology, including its effects on crime and use. This study is also significant because these dispensaries are characterized by considerable price variability and respond to market forces in regards to prices, products stocked and locations. Under these conditions niche marketing is likely to occur. Thus this study is designed to examine the following specific aims:

  1. Examine whether the density of cannabis dispensaries is related to increases in rates of violent and property crimes;
  2. Examine whether the changing density of cannabis dispensaries is related to similar changes in rates of cannabis dependence and abuse;
  3. Determine whether or not neighborhood characteristics (including location and density of other dispensaries) are related to price differences across dispensaries;
  4. Investigate whether or not there is greater clustering by patron characteristics consistent with niche theory in high density areas; and
  5. Determine whether or not patterns of medical cannabis use correspond to overall health levels and/or diagnosis of medical cannabis patients.

The short-term goal of the proposed research is to provide information about clients who use dispensaries, characteristics of the dispensaries themselves, and their relationship to crime and cannabis abuse and dependence. The long-term goal is to provide communities with specific guidance on regulatory processes that may ameliorate neighborhood problems related to cannabis dispensaries.

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