American Journal of Community Psychology

, Volume 51, Issue 1–2, pp 278–288 | Cite as

Evaluating Medical Marijuana Dispensary Policies: Spatial Methods for the Study of Environmentally-Based Interventions

  • Bridget Freisthler
  • Nancy J. Kepple
  • Revel Sims
  • Scott E. Martin
Original paper


In 1996, California was the first state to pass a Compassionate Use Act allowing for the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Here we review several current policy and land use environmental interventions designed to limit problems related to the influx of medical marijuana dispensaries across California cities. Then we discuss the special challenges, solutions, and techniques used for studying the effects of these place-based policies. Finally, we present some of the advanced spatial analytic techniques that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental interventions, such as those related to reducing problems associated with the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Further, using data from a premise survey of all the dispensaries in Sacramento, this study will examine what characteristics and practices of these dispensaries are related to crime within varying distances from the dispensaries (e.g., 100, 250, 500, and 1,000 feet). We find that some security measures, such as security cameras and having a door man outside, implemented by medical marijuana dispensary owners might be effective at reducing crime within the immediate vicinity of the dispensaries.


Environmental interventions Marijuana dispensaries Medical marijuana Bayesian space–time models 



Research for and preparation of this manuscript were supported by NIDA Grant R01-DA-032715, NIAAA Center Grant P60-AA-006282, and NIDA Training Grant T32-DA07272-19.


  1. An Act Relating to Registering Four Nonprofit Organizations to Dispense Marijuana for Symptom Relief, Vermont S.B. 17 (2011, June 2). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  2. An Act to Amend the Maine Medical Marijuana Act, Maine LD 1811 § 1-51 (2010). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  3. Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ordinance No. ORD-10-37 (2010).Google Scholar
  4. Arizona Department of Health Services. (2012). Arizona Medical Marijuana Program: Lawsuits. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from
  5. Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 36-2806.01 (2010). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  6. Ashe, M., Jernigan, D., Kline, R., & Galaz, R. (2003). Land use planning and the control of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and fast food restaurants. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1404–1408. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.93.9.1404.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bailey, T., & Gatrell, A. (1995). Interactive spatial data (pp. 247–290). Essex, England: Addison Wesley Longman.Google Scholar
  8. California Compassionate Use Act, Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 11362.5. (1996). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  9. California Police Chief’s Association. (2009). White paper on marijuana dispensaries. Task Force on Marijuana Dispensaries. Retrieved from
  10. Casteel, C., & Peek-Asa, C. (2000). Effectiveness of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) in reducing robberies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 18(4), 99–115. doi: 10.1016/S0749-3797(00)00146-X.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cliff, A., & Ord, J. (1973). Spatial autocorrelation: Monographs in spatial and environmental systems analysis. London: Pion Limited.Google Scholar
  12. Cliff, A., & Ord, J. (1981). Spatial processes models and applications. London: Pion Limited.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, L. E., & Felson, M. (1979). Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach. American Sociological Review, 588–608. doi: 10.2307/2094589.
  14. Cohen, D. A., Ghosh-Dastidar, B., Scribner, R. A., Miu, A., Scott, M., Robinson, P., et al. (2006). Alcohol outlets, gonorrhea, and the Los Angeles civil unrest: A longitudinal analysis. Social Science and Medicine, 62(12), 3062–3071. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.11.060.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Colorado Medical Marijuana Code, Colo. Rev. Stat § 12-43.3 (2010). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  16. Cozens, P. M., Saville, G., & Hillier, D. (2005). Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED): A review and modern bibliography. Property Management, 23(5), 328–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cuniff, M. M. (2011, April 7). Spokane medical marijuana dispensaries on federal notice: Operators, owners could face prosecution, The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved from
  18. Daley, Y. (1997, 12/21/1997). California marijuana clubs under fire: Court says they aren’t dispensaries, The Boston Globe, p. A8.Google Scholar
  19. Delaware Medical Marijuana Act, Title 16, Del. Health and Safety Food and Drugs, Chapter 46A. (2011 May 13). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  20. Denver, Colorado, Council Bill No. 34 (2010).Google Scholar
  21. Felson, M., & Poulsen, E. (2003). Simple indicators of crime by time of day. International Journal of Forecasting, 19(4), 595–601. doi: 10.1016/S0169-2070(03)00093-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Freisthler, B., Gruenewald, P. J., Treno, A. J., & Lee, J. (2003). Evaluating alcohol access and the alcohol environment in neighborhood areas. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 27(3), 477–484. doi: 10.1097/01.ALC.0000057043.04199.B7.
  23. Freisthler, B., Lery, B., Gruenewald, P. J., & Chow, J. (2006). Methods and challenges of analyzing spatial data for social work problems: The case of examining child maltreatment geographically. Social Work Research, 30(4), 198–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gorman, D. M., Speer, P. W., Gruenewald, P. J., & Labouvie, E. W. (2001). Spatial dynamics of alcohol availability, neighborhood structure and violent crime. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 62(5), 628.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Gruenewald, P. J., Ponicki, W. R., Remer, L. G., Johnson, F. W., Waller, L. A., Gorman, D. M., & Zhu, L. (2010). Spatial models of the growth and spread of methamphetamine abuse in California. In B. Deeds (ed.) Crime, space and place. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  26. Gruenewald, P. J., & Remer, L. G. (2006). Changes in outlet densities affect violence rates. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 30(7), 1184–1193. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2006.00141.x.Google Scholar
  27. Hoeffel, J. (2011, August 19). Medical marijuana dispensary ban case headed back to appeals court, Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
  28. Holder, H. D., Gruenewald, P. J., Ponicki, W. R., Treno, A. J., Grube, J. W., Saltz, R. F., et al. (2000). Effect of community-based interventions on high-risk drinking and alcohol-related injuries. Journal of the American Medical Association, 284(18), 2341–2347. doi: 10.1001/jama.284.18.2341.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jacobson, M., Chang, T., Anderson, J. M., MacDonald, J., Bluthenthal, R. N., & Ashwood, J. S. (2011). Regulating medical marijuana dispensaries: An overview with preliminary evidence of their impact on crime. RAND Corporation. Santa Monica, CA. Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  30. Kepple, N. J., & Freisthler, B. (2012). Exploring the ecological association between crime and medical marijuana dispensaries. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73, 523–530.Google Scholar
  31. Kuhney, J. L. (2011, July 25). City’s medical marijuana shops in limbo, Sign On San Diego. Retrieved from
  32. La Paz County, Arizona, Ordinance No. 2011-02 (2011).Google Scholar
  33. Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Amendment Act, Council of the District of Columbia, Bill 18-622. (2010). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  34. Leiderman, J., & Devine, J. B. (2011). Medical marijuana law in California. Washington, DC: NORML.Google Scholar
  35. Loomis, D., Marshall, S. W., Wolf, S. H., Runyan, C. W., & Butts, J. D. (2002). Effectiveness of safety measures recommended for prevention of workplace homicide. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287(8), 1011–1017. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.8.1011.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Los Angeles, California, Ordinance No. 181069. (2010 February 3).Google Scholar
  37. Mair, J. S., & Mair, M. (2003). Violence prevention and control through environmental modifications. Annual Review of Public Health, 24(1), 209–225. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.24.100901.140826.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). (2011). Active state medical marijuana programs. Retrieved July 20, 2011 from
  39. New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, Pub. L. No. 2009, c.307. (2010 October 1). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  40. Openshaw, S. (1984). The modifiable areal unit problem. Norwich, England: Geo Books.Google Scholar
  41. Papayanis, M. A. (2000). Sex and the revanchist city: Zoning out pornography in New York. Environment and Planning D, 18(3), 341–354. doi: 10.1068/d10s.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Paschall, M. J., Grube, J. W., Black, C., Flewelling, R. L., Ringwalt, C. L., & Biglan, A. (2007). Alcohol outlet characteristics and alcohol sales to youth: Results of alcohol purchase surveys in 45 Oregon communities. Prevention Science, 8(2), 153–159. doi: 10.1007/s11121-006-0063-0.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Phoenix, Arizona, Ordinance G-5573. (2010).Google Scholar
  44. Sacramento, California, Ordinance 2009-033. (2009).Google Scholar
  45. Sacramento, California, Ordinance 2010-037. (2010).Google Scholar
  46. Sacramento, California, Ordinance 2010-038. (2010).Google Scholar
  47. Schwester, R. (2010). Alcohol outlet densities, crime, and population restrictions on alcohol licenses. Public Administration & Management, 15(2), 365–380. Retrieved from
  48. Scribner, R. A., MacKinnon, D. P., & Dwyer, J. H. (1995). The risk of assaultive violence and alcohol availability in Los Angeles County. American Journal of Public Health, 85(3), 335–340. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.85.3.335.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Seattle, Washington, Ordinance No. 123661. (2011).Google Scholar
  50. The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, Chapter 016, H 5359 Substitute A, R.I. Gen. Laws. (2009 June 16). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  51. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, N.M. Stat. § 26-2B (2010). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from
  52. Waller, L. A., Goodwin, B. J., Wilson, M. L., Ostfeld, R. S., Marshall, S. L., & Hayes, E. B. (2007). Spatio-temporal patterns in county-level incidence and reporting of Lyme disease in the northeastern United States, 1990–2000. Environmental and Ecological Statistics, 14(1), 83–100. doi: 10.1007/s10651-006-0002-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. White, E. (2011, August 24). Medical marijuana: Michigan court bans sale of pot through private shops. Retrieved September 1, 2011 from

Copyright information

© Society for Community Research and Action 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bridget Freisthler
    • 1
  • Nancy J. Kepple
    • 1
  • Revel Sims
    • 1
  • Scott E. Martin
    • 2
  1. 1.UCLA Luskin School of Public AffairsLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Prevention Research Center, Pacific Institute for Research and EvaluationBerkeleyUSA

Personalised recommendations