Los Angeles: Long Beach Shooting Raises Question of Pot Shops' Safety

Medical marijuana dispensaries have multiplied in the past few years and one of the biggest concerns for Los Angeles-area neighborhoods has been crime. A shooting last week near a pot dispensary in neighboring Long Beach again raised the issue, as Los Angeles is only months away from a city ordinance that will shut nearly 80 percent of them and regulate the rest.

With Los Angeles shops set to meet certain guidelines for operation and location, will remaining marijuana dispensaries pose a danger to neighborhoods -- even with these precautions? California is set to vote on legalizing marijuana in November, but just how safe are pot shops?
The April 19 shooting on Long Beach's prosperous Naples Island happened around 9 p.m.and the injuries were not life-threatening. Occurring in an alley near a pot shop, police looked at recordings from surveillance cameras at the store. For many this shooting was the latest reminder of the danger that pot shops pose in neighborhoods.

New Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck shocked many in January when he said that medical dispensaries were not increasing crime. In an interview with the Daily News, Beck said of the belief that dispensaries foster crime: "I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra. It doesn't really bear out."

After the brouhaha that statement caused, Chief Beck issued data to support his claim: In 2009, the L.A.P.D. had more than 71 robberies at the more than 350 local banks, compared to 47 robberies at the more than 800 pot shops in Los Angeles.

"The mantra," however, was being voiced by then-Deputy-Chief Beck a year earlier, when he declared at a public-land-use meeting that marijuana dispensaries "are a hub of crime. We've had several homicides occur. A lot of night-time break-ins and robberies."

City Councilman Ed Reyes then asked Beck if the "commercialization" of medical pot shops was causing the crime problem. Beck replied: "Absolutely."

Got whiplash?

The number of pot shops in L.A. went from four in 2005, to 98 one year later. According to Beck, by 2009 there were about 800. The new City Council ordinance would leave 137 open with an end goal of about 70 citywide.

The legally allowed pot stores
have to follow rules such as maintaining a set distance from schools, churches and rehab facilities, as well as distance from residential areas. The effect this will have on safety remains to be seen.

With California set to vote on legalizing marijuana in November, the issue of pot shops and safety could balloon: a majority of people in California agree with legalizing pot, a 2009 poll put the number at 56 percent.

"Whenever you are dealing with drugs and money, there is going to be crime. If people think otherwise, they are very naive," said Scott Kirkland, the police chief in El Cerrito, Calif.

And it seems everyone can agree with that, except the Los Angeles police chief.

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