From Medical to Recreational Marijuana Sales: Marijuana Outlets and Crime in an Era of Changing Marijuana Legislation


A movement from medical to recreational marijuana use allows for a larger base of potential users who have easier access to marijuana, because they do not have to visit a physician before using marijuana. This study examines whether changes in the density of marijuana outlets were related to violent, property, and marijuana-specific crimes in Denver, CO during a time in which marijuana outlets began selling marijuana for recreational, and not just medical, use. We collected data on locations of crimes, marijuana outlets and covariates for 481 Census block groups over 34 months (N = 16,354 space–time units). A Bayesian Poisson space–time model assessed statistical relationships between independent measures and crime counts within “local” Census block groups. We examined spatial “lag” effects to assess whether crimes in Census block groups adjacent to locations of outlets were also affected. Independent of the effects of covariates, densities of marijuana outlets were unrelated to property and violent crimes in local areas. However, the density of marijuana outlets in spatially adjacent areas was positively related to property crime in spatially adjacent areas over time. Further, the density of marijuana outlets in local and spatially adjacent blocks groups was related to higher rates of marijuana-specific crime. This study suggests that the effects of the availability of marijuana outlets on crime do not necessarily occur within the specific areas within which these outlets are located, but may occur in adjacent areas. Thus studies assessing the effects of these outlets in local areas alone may risk underestimating their true effects.

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This project was supported by Grant No. P60-AA-006282 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Grant No. R01-DA032715 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Bridget Freisthler.

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Freisthler, B., Gaidus, A., Tam, C. et al. From Medical to Recreational Marijuana Sales: Marijuana Outlets and Crime in an Era of Changing Marijuana Legislation. J Primary Prevent 38, 249–263 (2017).

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  • Marijuana outlets
  • Violent crime
  • Property crime