Opponents of legalization are always looking for anything negative that they can say was caused by Colorado’s (or any state’s) legalization of cannabis and one of the big issues they have been using was a spike in homelessness – until now, that is. According to Donald Burnes, poverty expert and founder of the Burnes Center on Poverty and Homelessness at the University of Denver, there is no correlation between legalization and the sudden increase in homeless people in the state.
“A percentage of homeless individuals have told shelters that they moved to Colorado to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, but they only account for a fraction of out-of-state transplants,” writes Chris Walker of the Denver Westword. “Most of the homeless who moved to Colorado report that they were looking for work.”
Burnes came to this conclusion from data gathered mostly by the Point-In-Time survey (which was a part of the Metro Denver Homeless initiative), which asks people where their last permanent residence was. As it turns out, the number of homeless people coming in from out of state has remained more or less the same since cannabis was legalized in 2012 – and even decreasing some in 2016.
It wasn’t long after legal sales began in 2014 that news outlets started reporting that legal cannabis was drawing a large crowd and leading to increased homelessness in the state of Colorado. They interviewed a handful of people who had moved, and who said legal cannabis was the reason for their move (some for medicinal purposes and other just because it was legal) – but now it appears that this did not provide an accurate representation of how many homeless people were originally there for legal marijuana.
“One of the things we know is that recreational cannabis is pretty expensive. It’s much cheaper to get prescription drugs or illegal drugs than it is to get cannabis,” he said. “So substance abuse includes alcohol and drugs, but cannabis is a relatively small portion of this, with opioids playing a much more prominent, and growing, role.”
It appears that regardless of what prohibitionists might have you think, legalization is not creating a homeless problem for Colorado – and likely not for any state with a legal cannabis industry, for that matter. In fact, the things that are contributing to homelessness the most are loss (and lack) of jobs, the extremely high (and ever-growing) cost of living, and health-related issues.
All this makes sense because losing your job, being unable to find new work and missing work due to health are all common reasons that people wind up being homeless – not to mention the cost of living issue, which is the reason so many people are fighting for a higher minimum wage. What doesn’t make sense is how so many news sources are so quick to report on something before any real data has ever been gathered – because now their claims have been proven wrong a few years later when the situation has not changed much.