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Where's the beef?



Lock up the women and hide the cash and jewelry. A medical marijuana dispensary that moved in a block away might bring rapists, burglars, robbers and killers to your neighborhood.

Of course, that kind of hysteria is out-shouting reality. Truth is, statistics just don't support it.

"Looking at the data, it doesn't appear to be a crime wave to me," says Colorado Springs Police Sgt. Steve Noblitt.

In fact, from Jan. 1 through May 22, medical marijuana dispensaries accounted for 1.5 percent of all business robberies in the city — 1 in 82, Police Department stats show.

Looking at residential burglaries, of the 830 reported throughout the city, 19 break-ins happened at MMJ dispensaries located in homes, or 2.3 percent of all residential burglaries. Noblitt says there were 289 burglaries of all other non-residences and only two were dispensaries.

As for vandalism, that's the biggest laugh of all. Only one dispensary was vandalized among the 2,618 reported incidents of vandalism citywide from January through May 22.

The only statistic the police department is watching involves home invasions. During the period, 41 home invasions were reported, four of which happened at homes that house MMJ dispensaries.

"The numbers we have are pretty small, except the home invasion, which obviously is a concern to us," Noblitt says. "I'd say the numbers are small enough [that] we'll keep our eye on them. But if they were to grow to be a large portion of the crimes, that would be a concern to us."

But Noblitt adds, "We are concerned with criminal behavior wherever it occurs. People need to know you can become a target of a burglary or robbery if you have something that someone else wants. If you're looking at a medical marijuana dispensary, they can have something people want, whether it be money or product itself, similar to a jewelry store."

Other cities report similar non-crime waves due to MMJ facilities.

In Denver, police analyzed crime data within 1,000 feet of dispensaries that registered with the city to collect sales taxes, according to the nj.com website. Comparing data from December 2008 — when there were no dispensaries collecting taxes — and December 2009, after a couple hundred had opened, police found no increase in crime.

San Francisco police have tried to paint dispensaries as a dark influence on crime, but theweedblog.com reports that police officials there have admitted they've found no connection between dispensaries and lawbreaking.

Moreover, the Los Angeles Daily News reported in January that most medical marijuana outlets aren't targeted by criminals.

"Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries," Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck was quoted as saying at a meeting with Daily News editors and reporters. In 2009, Beck said, the LAPD logged reports of 71 robberies at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to 47 robberies at roughly 800 medical marijuana dispensaries.

Here's another myth: Medical marijuana patients pose an inordinate driving hazard.

First, Springs police don't know how many people have been stopped and arrested for driving while high on medical marijuana. They simply don't track that.

But looking at the wider pool of those arrested for driving under the influence of a controlled substance, which could range from pot to narcotics, police busted 73 people in 2009. Arrests for DUI involving alcohol, on the other hand, were 32 times higher at 2,327 last year, Noblitt says.

He says while drunk drivers give themselves away by weaving, making abrupt lane changes and speeding, police suspect drivers have been smoking pot when they stop at green lights, drive too slow or stop at stop signs for too long. Potential charge: impeding traffic.

After a cop stops a suspected impaired driver, other signs present themselves, such as slurred speech, watery bloodshot eyes or the odor of alcohol or marijuana, Noblitt says.

Such signals trigger a roadside sobriety test "to better identify that the driver is too impaired to drive a vehicle," he says. If there are no additional signs but the officer suspects narcotics are at play, one of the department's "drug recognition experts" is called to determine if the person is under the influence of drugs.

After that, a driver is asked to submit to a blood or breath test for alcohol, or a urine test for drugs. Test results are forwarded to the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office to file charges.

While THC in marijuana can show up in urine tests from 10 days to three months after use, depending on frequency of use, cops don't care when you consumed it.

"If you're operating a vehicle in an unfit manner," Noblitt says, "it doesn't matter what the prescription is. It comes down to, were you too impaired to safely operate a vehicle?"


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