Report on pot and crime goes up in smoke as RAND retracts it

photo by Torbin Bjorn Hansen via Flickr

Maybe they just hallucinated it.

The RAND Corporation has retracted a study linking Los Angeles pot dispensaries to drops in crime, the Los Angeles Times reports. The problem: RAND hadn’t included data from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The institute tells the Times, referring to RAND researchers:

“They made mistakes,” said Debra Knopman, a Rand vice president and director of the infrastructure, safety and environment division. “What we’re wrestling with is how the mistakes went undetected.”

The report was peer-reviewed, RAND said, and retractions are uncommon:

Rand issues about 300 reports a year, and Knopman said she could recall only one other report that has been withdrawn in the last decade. She said Rand seriously considers all complaints about its research and added, “It’s pretty rare that it leads to a retraction, very rare.”

The Times’s John Hoeffel, who reported today’s development, wrote two weeks ago that RAND had removed the report from its website after it faced fierce criticism:

Warren Robak, a spokesman for the Santa Monica-based think tank, said Tuesday, “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 the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, which has 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.”

hat tip: Deborah Blum

5 thoughts on “Report on pot and crime goes up in smoke as RAND retracts it”

  1. This deserves close following over the next weeks and months. It does not fit in the usual realm of scientific publications, because of the obvious political and social differences between the two sides of this issue. I don’t think it belongs in retraction watch. If it does, I would like to find out what evidence the Rand group did use, what standards of evidence the LA police department uses, and what sorts of pressure whatever groups put upon Rand to bring about this retraction.

    I have no idea about how dispensaries influence the crime rate. But I do know that dispensing clean needles is very helpful and nonetheless bitterly opposed.

    Elaine Newman

  2. Agree with @Elaine Newman… this is a highly politicized area of research, analogous to studies relating gun ownership to crime. Anyone who publishes in this area is subject to intense pressure from at least two powerful opposing sides who do generally have no understanding of “science” nor of “skepticism”, to say nothing of “fair play.”
    To begin with, police definitions of “crime” are very different from civilian viewpoints–for example, most policemen equate an arrest with a conviction, while most civilians would say, “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law”.
    Another point is the “war on drugs”–which, by any reasonable definition, was lost years ago.
    See also how the government of Portugal has treated the issue of non-prescripted drug use for the last ten years–a policy that should allow for some excellent comparison studies with most other countries, which continue to ban drugs across the board.
    Finally, as an oldster, I have vivid memories of what happened to researchers who tried to work on the effects of Schedule 1 drugs in the sixties and seventies. Funding (and drugs) were readily available to labs that had a history of producing damning studies about the ill effects of these drugs, but money dried up rather suddenly when studies failed to produce the desired results (sorry that I can’t give specific citations–I was told this in strictest confidence by those directly involved.)
    The end result of this policy was that some very poor “research” was produced, which, for example, purported to show that marijuana use caused drops in sperm production, or that LSD caused chromosome damage, etc. etc.
    Look for these issues to continue to ferment, as the DEA has recently taken a stance that will effectively eliminate marijuana dispensaries in California and probably other states as well. There is little likelihood of objective research being published in the current political atmosphere.

    1. I don’t claim to have any knowledge of, or even any opinion about, the legalization issue; but I would stand up for the integrity police crime statistics. They’re based on incident reports, not arrests or convictions. While there are always some people with an interest in exaggerating or minimizing any social statistics, incident reports are not easy to influence. In addition, there are well-heeled interests with an important stake in keeping them accurate. Property insurers, retail chain stores, and the better run local banks, for example, can get a real competitive edge by knowing the actual risks of crime in specific neighborhoods.

      I hasten to add that I’m not talking economic theory. I learned more than I wanted to know about the actual practice as an arbitrator in a tort case some years ago.

      1. I am not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV. Incident reporting is heavily affected by police choice. Often they need to increase statistics (see the recent allegations of a quota driven system in NYC).

        Please consider the box on this table

  3. I would like to say that this article absolutely belongs in retraction watch. Certainly if there is government pressure to retract something it’s worth reporting on even though there is a categorical difference between such a retraction and one that came about because of fraudulent or careless science.

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