Nearly one-third of the crimes committed in Denver occur within 1,000 feet of a medical marijuana dispensary, according to new statistics provided by the city Wednesday.
Overall, crime near dispensaries rose slightly in the first half of this year. But the statistics provided no evidence that dispensaries themselves are driving crime in their surrounding neighborhoods or that crimes at medical-marijuana stores are increasing.
Instead, the numbers offer more details — but no conclusions — amid a debate that began boiling earlier this week after controversial comments by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey: Have medical-marijuana businesses made Denver less or more safe?
According to the figures provided by the city’s Department of Safety, Denver recorded about 7,000 reported crimes within 1,000 feet of dispensaries in the first six months of both 2012 and 2013. Violent crimes near dispensaries saw a minuscule uptick in 2013 compared with 2012. Property crimes saw a slight decrease. Overall, crime near dispensaries was up 1.8 percent, in line with the slight increase in crime in the whole city for that period.
The numbers provided to The Denver Post include crimes committed at dispensaries but do not split such crimes out separately, making it impossible to tell how much effect dispensaries have on crime in their surrounding neighborhoods. A Denver police spokesman declined to speculate on the numbers’ significance.
Denver City Council members Monday, District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said a dozen homicides and hundreds of robberies have been linked to the medical marijuana industry statewide.”This is an ugly secret,” Morrissey said.
But medical-marijuana advocates challenged Morrissey’s statistics — which the prosecutor later said were “loose figures.” Many of the crimes cited were connected to marijuana growers selling pot out of their homes — either legally as medical-marijuana caregivers or illegally.
“We’ve seen from multiple reports based on law enforcement statistics that licensed and regulated medical-marijuana facilities do not increase crime in surrounding areas, and in fact in many cases, crime decreases,” said Betty Aldworth of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
A similar report by the Denver Department of Safety for the first nine months of 2009 and 2010 found a decrease in crime within 1,000 feet of a dispensary between those two years. A study published last yearby researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found dispensaries in Sacramento, Calif., did not increase crime in their neighborhoods.
But crimes certainly are occurring at medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Chris Hageseth, who owns two dispensaries in Denver, said his stores have been burglarized a few times. Notoriety, as well as a lack of access to banking, meaning many dispensaries operate cash-only, make the stores a target for thieves, Hageseth said. But he thinks crime at dispensaries is no worse than crime at banks or convenience stores.
“I don’t think we are a magnet for crime,” Hageseth said. “We are like any business with a product that is valuable, easily transferrable and small.”