The support surrounding legalized marijuana has made headway, especially in recent years. Advocates for the drug’s legalization even claim that doing so would benefit our society, by aiding in major health issues, reducing crime, and increasing revenue for states over time. Some have even gone as far to suggest marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction. Like many other addictive drugs, its selling points are one-sided at best. Proponents fail to mention what legalization has created in states, such as Colorado.
Major news networks around the country have been featuring a story that is slowly becoming the reality for many parts of Colorado. A surge in homelessness has occurred over the last several years, especially after the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. This is especially the case in a small Colorado town called Durango. So why exactly has pot legalization transformed certain towns into magnets for panhandling and homelessness, and where do we go from here?
Once A Vibrant Town, Turns To A Vagrant City
A town that was once known for its resorts and luxury hotels, is now littered with the homeless and loiterers. And, while this transformation could be blamed on many things, many store owners and citizens believe the uptick happened after marijuana was legalized. Some panhandlers cut straight to the point, by flat out asking for marijuana, or holding up a cardboard sign with a pot leaf on it. What’s more, many of these individuals who find themselves begging for change are kids from out of state, such as Arizona, New Mexico, and even New York. While the argument is that marijuana will increase state revenue, most of these kids never find employment, and rather flood the streets begging for a few extra dollars.
Durango has always been a place that survived on tourist dollars, but it has become difficult to maintain its appealing nature, when the city has become overrun with homelessness, garbage, and crime. And unfortunately, it seems as though the city’s hands are tied when dealing with panhandling. In 2015, a federal judge in Denver ruled that ordinances against street solicitation and panhandling were illegal because they imposed on first amendment rights to express one’s self freely. In a small attempt to deter the issue, Durango has put up signs that encourage donations to homeless shelters, rather than contributing to it by giving the homeless money.
Caleb Preston, a local store owner in Durango told Fox News, “Just this year there has been a major influx of people between 20 and 30 who are just hanging out on the streets. The problem is while many are pretty mellow, there are many more who are violent. Most of the kids here are from out of state, and I would say it has a lot to do with the legalized pot.”
Homelessness Is Not The Only Issue
As Preston explains and others have also expressed, the only issue is not that transients are panhandling in the beautiful business district of Durango, but the fact that crime has risen dramatically and citizens no longer feel safe in their hometown. In 2014, two years after marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Colorado, the crime rate rose 7% among all 35 crime types. Additionally, public drunkenness rose 237% and drug violations were up 20%, from the year prior. Kamran Afzal, Durango Police Chief told Fox News that the property crime rate was 12% higher than the national average.
One homeless man, Matthew Marinseck explains, “The city really started freaking out when they started seeing needles in the streets.” While this could open up an argument that its other drugs that pose an issue, as many of us already know, the addiction to one drug usually leads to another. Similar to alcohol, when marijuana becomes legalized, it becomes more readily available to individuals who have the potential to abuse the drug. Many studies have revealed in the past, those you become addicted to marijuana, have a greater chance of becoming addicted to more illicit substances, such as heroin.
Other detriments include the potential overdose of young children and the littering of community parks. Often times, small children mistake marijuana edibles, such as gummy bears and lollipops as the real thing, leaving them susceptible to THC overdose, which many have been hospitalized for. And lastly, an article by the Colorado Springs Independent depicted a harsh reality of community parks inundated with more than trash, left behind by the homeless. Now it goes as far as used needles, empty prescription bottles once filled with marijuana, pornography, stolen items, and human feces that have the potential of leaking into the city’s waterways.
What Will This Mean For Other States?
It is difficult to really say what will happen in other states that have legalized marijuana. Unfortunately, we live in a society that does more to try to “fix” a problem after the fact, rather than attempting to prevent it in the first place. While marijuana legalization has clearly damaged this once beautiful town, it is doubtful much will change, since over $70 million was made in marijuana tax alone in 2015. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether or not our lawmakers will now be more hesitant to legalize marijuana further in other regions and states.
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If you or someone you know is currently struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, help is available. It is important to understand that although a substance may be legal, it can still be very harmful. If you find yourself addicted to marijuana, please do not hesitate to get the help you need.
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