03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

LA Weekly 's Medical Pot Story is Half-Baked

Real reporting meets "Reefer Madness" in LA Weekly's cover story on LA"s Medical Weed Wars. The piece is a rare hybrid: part careful, thorough reporting, part hysterical, unproven allegations.

Christine Pelisek and Patrick Range MacDonald do an admirable job of documenting the details of how our feckless City Council has lost control of LA's proliferating pot shops, and muster a lot of evidence to support the conventional wisdom that most of those shops' customers are not medically ill patients but garden variety stoners.

But the reporters leap from those carefully collected facts into pure hype about how pot shops are breeding crime. We are told that there is "rising crime in and around them," that "20 unregulated pot dispensaries (are) attracting crime in ... Eagle Rock", and that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says, "They are the hub of crime ... A lot of nighttime break-ins and robberies."

Not one of these scary-sounding claims is backed up with a single statistic. Crime stats are easy to gather -- you can find them mapped block-by-block on the LAPD's website. But Pelisek and MacDonald seem not to have bothered to see whether there's any basis for the complaints of cops and neighborhood gadflies. If they had, their story might have lost a lot of its urgency. In Hollywood, for instance, an area which the reporters rightly note is chock-a-block with marijuana dispensaries, crime hasn't risen -- it's dropped by 12 percent in the last two years. Robberies and burglaries, the crimes you'd most expect to see associated with pot shops, have both fallen by double digits.

Pelisek and MacDonald also quote Beck saying "We've had several homicides occur." But they cite only one, which happened over a year ago. That's tragic, but not exactly shocking in a city that sees hundreds of murders every years. There may have been "several" murders connected to dispensaries, but there's no reporting here to prove it.

Then there's this:

The cops worry that the stores are giving a new toehold to organized crime here, citing busts like the one near the Northridge Mall, where a home had been gutted by associates of the vicious 18th Street and Florencia 13 Latino gangs to grow 294 plants for the Mexican Mafia and supply it to medical pot clinics. LAPD doesn't know whether the Mexican cartels now growing acres of pot in the Angeles National Forest and Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area are moving closer to L.A. to supply the new, over-the-counter pot industry.

No indeed, they don't know, and have no real reason to think so. Pot has been a multi-billion dollar crop in this state for decades. To blame marijuana dispensaries for Mexican gangs growing weed in suburban homes and national forests is pure speculation. Where do you suppose all the pot was coming from before the dispensaries opened?

Here's the bottom line: People have been buying and selling marijuana in this city for much of the last century. It's a huge business that has until recently been entirely illegal, and as a result has been a moneymaker for gangs and spawned a fair bit of concomitant crime. The real issue is whether making some small part of that business quasi-legal, in the form of marijuana dispensaries, has made things worse. It's possible that's the case, but I very much doubt it. And there's certainly nothing in this article to convince anyone otherwise.