The “green rush” that was ignited by the legalization of marijuana has been found to extend not only to business people but the homeless population as well. The homeless population in Denver, Colorado has risen 8 percent since 2013, the year after marijuana was made legal in the state. With its known ability to help addicts recover from opioid and methamphetamine addictions as well as treat an enormous number of physical, emotional and mental disabilities that many in the homeless communities may suffer from, it’s no wonder that its legalization sent out a beacon of hope, attracting an influx of those in need.
Colorado Job Prospects
According to The Guardian, Tom Luerhs, executive director of the St. Francis Center in Denver, said, “We are seeing people who were homeless in other states coming here specifically because they can get marijuana here. Others come here thinking they can get a job in the marijuana industry, and then they can’t get a job as quickly as they thought, and they end up homeless.”
Other Factors That Could Contribute to the Rise in Homelessness
While the potential for employment and better health through marijuana legalization was a big draw for many, there seems to be a number of reasons for the increase in homelessness in Colorado. In 2015, over 100,000 people moved to the state for the low unemployment rates and accessible healthcare during a time when the state was reportedly short 15,000 homes. However, the legalization of marijuana has created an economic boom in the state, creating thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenue and billions of dollars in economic activity. This clearly shows why moving to the state has been attractive for so many people.
The High Cost of Homelessness
CSU Pueblo conducted a study that shows that “legal cannabis has potentially attracted 800 already homeless transients to Pueblo County; costing the community approximately $23 million.” Officials have deduced that every homeless person in Denver costs the state $44,000 and every person in Pueblo costs $29,000.
Solutions to the Issue
Governor John Hickenlooper has suggested that some of the marijuana tax revenue accrued annually should be spent on homelessness programs. The state received over $200 million in tax revenue in 2016 which has gone towards helping the residents of Colorado. There are some, including Daniel Starrett, a divisional commander of the Salvation Army, who have described marijuana as a gateway drug that is connected to harder drugs that can lead to families losing homes. There is no science to support this, however, and all studies indicate that in states where marijuana is legal in any capacity, opioid addiction and deaths related to opioid use is down at least 23 percent. John Parvensky of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has stated that alcohol, narcotics and opioids are the leading cause of substance abuse.
Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs has said that he believes the high number of homeless people moving to Colorado will go down once other states legalize the plant as well. It seems to be a reasonable deduction that if the homeless could get the relief and potential employment offered by the marijuana industry in their own state, there would be no cause to move.