The holidays are right around the corner, and charity groups are in greater need than ever. Poverty and homelessness continue to expand in the United States. Colorado is no exception. More than 10,000 people in Colorado are without homes, and there are only 7,000 beds available.
In the face of this growing problem, Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper plans to “double down” on the fight against homelessness. And he plans to do it with taxes from legal cannabis sales.
Governor John Hickenlooper Aims to Keep His Promise
In states with legal cannabis, political careers are made on progressive pot policies. John Hickenlooper turned his focus to fighting homelessness when he was mayor of Denver. Now, as Colorado governor, he’s making good on his promise to direct revenue from cannabis sales to buildings and resources for homeless Coloradans.
Hickenlooper failed to achieve the goals laid out in his 10-year plan to reduce homelessness when he was mayor of Denver. That’s why he’s taking on the issue in his final term as governor.
Cannabis Tax Dollars Can End Homelessness
One of the most persuasive arguments for legalizing marijuana has to do with the additional revenue legal industry generates for social services and government programs. For example, Colorado collected $134 million in taxes on medical and recreational marijuana in just the first nine months of 2016.
However, that money can only fund law enforcement, healthcare, and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.
Therefore, Gov. Hickenlooper’s plan requires a change in the law. Currently, tax dollars from cannabis sales cannot be directed toward government housing programs.
State Democrats are behind the plan. But resistance from opposition lawmakers is a possibility. Debates will take place to shape 2017’s spending plans.
Hickenlooper’s plan is to take roughly 10% of the current tax dollars from cannabis and direct it toward housing programs.
All in all, the governor’s proposal would redirect $16.4 million in marijuana taxes toward new programs to build affordable and permanent housing units.
The plan mainly aims to help senior citizens who are being priced out of the rising costs of housing in cities like Boulder and Denver.
Does Cannabis Cause Homelessness?
However, the issue is complicated. Recent studies suggest that an increase in homelessness could be related to the legalization of recreational cannabis. And Colorado has the fastest growing rate of homelessness in the country. Indeed, homelessness increased 6 percent in 2016 alone. Some officials say legal pot is the cause.
They argue that legalized cannabis makes Colorado seem to be a safer destination for homeless people. The homeless often face harassment from police and get locked up for minor drug offenses.
That’s why Hickenlooper’s “housing first” strategy can be so useful. Stable environments making treating addiction and mental health problems easier and more efficient. It’s hard for people to make significant life changes for the better when they are homeless.
Hickenlooper argues that Colorado spends twice as much on ineffective programs. In addition to housing, his plan will provide job training opportunities, counseling for addictions, and medical treatment for mental health.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is throwing their support behind these spending proposals. They say the plans represent a substantial commitment by the state to fight a state problem.