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Rand reconsiders pot-shop study after L.A. city attorney complains

October 11, 2011 |  1:17 pm

An employee sorts merchandise at a Southern California medical marijuana dispensary.

Rand Corp. has removed a controversial study on crime and medical marijuana dispensaries from its website while it reviews the conclusions, a decision that came almost three weeks after the Los Angeles city attorney’s office criticized the report and demanded that it be retracted immediately.

The study came to the counterintuitive conclusion that crime went up near Los Angeles dispensaries last year after the city’s medical marijuana ordinance took effect.

Warren Robak, a spokesman for the Santa Monica-based think tank, said, “As we’ve begun to take a look at the report, we decided it’s best to remove it from circulation until that review is complete.”

The study came under intense assault by deputies to Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, who have argued in court that crime associated with dispensaries is a key reason the city needs to limit the number. The office 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."

In a Sept. 21 letter to Mireille Jacobson, a health economist who was the lead researcher, Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney, and Asha Greenberg, an assistant city attorney, demanded “the immediate retraction" of the Rand study. “Until you publicly retract your work, we expect the Rand publication to be referenced nationwide, at incalculable avoidable harm to public health and safety,” they wrote.

The researchers compared the 10 days before the city's ordinance took effect on June 7, 2010, with the 10 days after, when some of the more than 400 illegal dispensaries shut down. They found a 59% increase in crime within three-tenths of a mile of a closed dispensary compared to an open one. But they also acknowledged the results were subject to a large margin of error and said that increase could range from as low as 5.4% to as high as 114%.

Usher and Greenberg challenged the assumption that most dispensaries closed on that date and remained closed for at least 10 days, noting, “To our knowledge, no comprehensive effort was ever made by anyone, including Rand, to track and record the precise openings and closings.”

They continued, “We were also terribly troubled by your suggestion that a 10-day period of statistical review constitutes a relevant crime trend.”

Usher and Greenberg also said the researchers failed to use “available crime statistics, which cover considerably more offenses than you charted.” They noted that the researchers did not acquire data from the Los Angeles Police Department that can be charted by city block.

Robak said Jacobson was not available for comment and said he was not sure when Rand would complete its internal review.  “People are working on this expeditiously,” he said.

He acknowledged that the city attorney was the most outspoken critic. “I’m unaware of anyone else who’s been so pointed in their criticism,” he said.

Rand has previously removed studies from its website for review.  “It does not happen often, but there is precedent,” he said.

Robak informed The Times of the organization’s decision to remove the study from its website and noted, “That is a part of the Rand ethic, if I may boast a bit.”


Study on pot shops has a twist

Federal crackdown represents a policy shift

U.S. decrees that marijuana has no accepted medical use

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: An employee sorts merchandise at a Southern California medical marijuana dispensary. Credit: Los Angeles Times