Marijuana Taxes Could Go to Housing Colorado's Homeless in 2017

We just released our five top marijuana stories for 2016, and Governor John Hickenlooper has set the stage for one of the biggest stories in 2017.

In his budget request for the 2017-’18 fiscal year, Hickenlooper asked Colorado’s lawmakers to put aside $12.3 million of the revenue garnered from marijuana taxes during that time and use the money to build 1,200 new housing units for people on the streets experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness, as well as an additional 300 units every five years for people facing periodic homelessness.

His plan calls for an additional $6 million a year to help house low-income residents and people with behavioral-health needs. Another $4 million will be used to acquire or build 354 housing units dedicated to behavioral-health services, and $2 million is earmarked for another 250 affordable-housing units for seniors and people affected by rising housing costs. All told, that’s $24.3 million going to one of this state’s most urgent issues: affordable housing.

After Amendment 64 was passed by voters in 2012, many proponents of the measure shared their concerns about people with systemic drug-abuse problems with state officials, saying they hoped the government could help provide more public-health solutions instead of incarcerating such individuals, according to Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for the State of Colorado.

“Roughly 70 to 80 percent of all homeless people have some drug-abuse problem, and one of the best public-health solutions is to give them housing and get them out of the cycle of dependency,” Freedman says.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 9,953 homeless people in Colorado in 2015. HUD reports that this state’s homeless population rose by 13 percent last year, the third-largest increase in the country, second only to those of California and Washington.

Amendment 64 passed with the promise that tax revenue would go to capital improvements for schools, so Hickenlooper’s latest proposal has received some pushback.

“We put roughly $40 million this year, and next year maybe closer to $50 million, into school construction,” Freedman explains. “The problem is, there’s about a $15 billion need for school construction, as we estimate it. I think people were expecting to see a lot more of an impact, that this money would bring a gym to their specific school. It’s just not enough money to do stuff like that. Even if we put every dollar of marijuana tax cash into school construction, it would cover less than a tenth of a percent of the need.”

The state is still planning to use a significant portion of the tax revenue from marijuana on schools, but with sales at $1 billion at the end of October, Hickenlooper would like to see some of the additional taxes collected going to those who suffer from drug addiction. “We’re trying to use the revenues for unintended consequences of drug use,” Hickenlooper told the Colorado Springs Gazette, “especially legalization of marijuana.”
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.