Folks who worry about the wrong element moving into their neighborhood and wish the streets were safe to walk alone at night have just found a new answer to their prayers. A new study finds that cannabis dispensaries decrease the amount of neighborhood crime, as reported by The Cannifornian.

Dispensaries still have a social stigma, even among supporters of medical marijuana. A recent survey found that 90 percent of Americans support the rights of patients to use medical cannabis, but that 44 percent said that if a dispensary opened up in their neighborhood they would be “somewhat or very concerned.”

This not-in-my-backyard attitude prompted researchers at the University of California, Irvine to look into the exact effects of dispensaries on area crime. The idea came to health economics professor Mireille Jacobson back in 2010 when she saw dispensaries being shut down all over Los Angeles, often with the justification that they degraded the safety of the surrounding area.

So Jacobson and her colleague Tom Chang looked at the crime rates in neighborhoods before and after dispensaries were closed by the police. On June 7, 2010, a massive coordinated police effort closed roughly 70 percent of the city’s 600 dispensaries. “If these dispensaries truly were crime magnets, we’d expect to see a sharp decrease in crime when they shut down,” Jacobson said.

But that was not the case. According to data collected by the Los Angeles Times, within 20-30 days of dispensary closures property crimes increased 12 to 14 percent within the site of the closed shop. Within a fourth of a mile, property crimes increased 14 to 16 percent. Within an eighth of a mile, they rose 23 to 24 percent.

Now why in the world would medical marijuana dispensaries discourage people from committing crimes? It turns out the answer is not so mysterious. Jacobson and Chang also analyzed crime rates near restaurants after they close down for health code violations and found nearly identical data.

In what’s called the “eyes upon the street” crime theory, the more businesses there are on a street, the more people there are on that street. The more people there are on a street, the less likely people are to commit crimes, since there are more people to see them do it. Added to that, dispensaries often have security cameras and guards, which don’t do much to encourage criminal activity.

Or maybe people were just too baked to break and steal stuff. The numbers leave room for interpretation.

Photo via Flickr user Dank Depot