Study: No, marijuana legalization is not leading to a spike in homelessness

 Study: No, marijuana legalization is not leading to a spike in homelessness

Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport doubled down on misleading assertions that marijuana legalization has led to a spike in homelessness, despite a comprehensive study that states otherwise.

Davenport’s comments came shortly after Colorado State University-Pueblo researchers released a groundbreaking study on March 12 stating that the cannabis industry provides a $35-million net positive economic benefit to Pueblo County.

Davenport claims that the report did not include information he has had relayed to him from officers regarding homelessness and poverty. But researchers from CSU-Pueblo took a comprehensive look at the subject, including accounting for demands on law enforcement and social services in the more than 200-page report. Researchers even analyzed the results of 20 interviews with city patrol officers in June regarding their personal experiences confronting crime in the era of legal cannabis.

The report states that the marijuana industry had an economic impact of more than $58 million in the county in 2016, while leading to added costs of about $23 million. That equates to a more than $35 million positive net impact in the county. Looking ahead, the report concludes that the net impact in Pueblo County will rise to nearly $100 million per year by 2021.

Pueblo County has carved out a niche for itself as a leader in the cannabis industry, with more than 4.6 million square feet of cannabis gardens. It has some of the largest licensed outdoor grow facilities in the country. About $6 million of Pueblo County’s $88 million general fund is supported by cannabis tax revenue.

Despite Chief Davenport’s claims, the CSU-Pueblo report notes that there has been higher in-migration and homelessness in the county, but that the data does not support perceptions that marijuana legalization led to the increase. The report specifically points to Black Hills Energy’s disconnection of service to thousands of power users, which the study states likely led to a homeless problem. The rising cost of housing has also been a factor in the county.

“The idea that people have been coming to Colorado from out of state in droves, spending their last dime on cannabis and then lining up at soup kitchen queues and at social service agencies, is not really accurate,” Timothy McGettigan, a sociologist with CSU-Pueblo, told Colorado Public Radio.

“We found no evidence that poverty has either increased or decreased in Pueblo as a result of cannabis legalization,” the report’s authors write.

“More than two dozen Ph.D.s worked on this,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace told the Denver Post. “It’s really the first of its kind, a really all-inclusive look at cannabis legalization in a community.”

Pace called the report conservative, noting that it may have underestimated revenue. It doesn’t include the economic benefits from wholesale marijuana sales, which are significant in Pueblo because the county has positioned itself as a cultivation leader.

Statewide, Gov. John Hickenlooper pushed last year to apply $15.3 million in marijuana taxes to fund affordable housing construction grants and loans in an effort to help the homeless with housing.

The CSU-Pueblo report surely came as a disappointment to Chief Davenport, who has long pushed back against the legal marijuana industry, despite the benefits to his city and county. He did, however, later walk back some of his claims that marijuana led to an increase in homelessness, noting that climate and perceived cost of living are factors.

“Our climate probably has something to do with it. Sometimes the perceived — and I would emphasize perceived — low cost of living is another reason and other benefits that they can get,” Davenport told the Pueblo Chieftain. “Sadly, sometimes there are people that end up homeless for other reasons. I don’t think that we can close our mind on those people who fall on difficult times and end up homeless …”

Davenport also acknowledged that his department does not keep detailed statistics, noting, “We are cognizant of the fact that we need to do a better job of collecting marijuana-specific data.”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus served as the Senior Statehouse Reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette where he co-launched ColoradoPolitics.com, covering politics, the governor’s office, the Colorado Legislature, Congress, and federal, state and local governments. He joined in November 2016 from The Durango Herald. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the top state-based political and legislative reporters in the nation. He also has won over a dozen awards from the Colorado Press Association. In prior positions, Marcus worked for the Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly, and The Denver Daily News, a former free daily newspaper in Denver, where he covered City Hall, politics, and had an entertainment column. Before that, Marcus worked for the Longmont Times-Call. An Ithaca College graduate, Marcus studied journalism and creative writing, before moving to Colorado from New York in 2004.

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