Measuring Access to Registered Marijuana Dispensaries Using an Audit of Google Earth

Presenter: AMY WALKER

Research Category: Health Sciences
Additional Authors: Yen-Tyng Chen, Magdalena Pankowska

There is minimal data available regarding the access of communities to medical and recreational marijuana, which is a substantial gap considering that legalization policies differ widely between states. The goal of this study is to measure the feasibility of applying a unique methodology to confirm the existence of licensed cannabis dispensaries over time. The method used is termed a “Google Audit”- it involves using Google Earth’s Street View feature at different points in time to confirm the existence of dispensaries at given addresses in state registries. Signage and cannabis-related markings are also being noted to track how often cannabis is advertised to the public. As this study uses official state registries, it is hypothesized a high proportion of licensed dispensaries will be confirmed to be existing businesses. The study is being conducted in states legalizing marijuana for medical use only as well as states legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use. The audit is focusing on counties involved in the CDC’s National HIV Behavioral Surveillance, as in the future this dataset may be used to observe how marijuana access affects populations who are at increased risk of HIV acquisition. Our methods have so far audited 97 dispensaries in four states, including Florida and Massachusetts. Eighty-three of these 97 dispensaries were confirmed to exist in the most recent year available on Street View. With an 85.6% validation rate for the existing dataset, Google Audit seems to be a feasible method of confirming the existence of licensed dispensaries.