Why Is This City Becoming Overrun With Violent Homeless?
Coloradoans who believed a vote to legalize possession of marijuana was going to create a haven of peaceful, mellow residents enjoying the pure Rocky Mountain high John Denver sang about all those years ago, may be rethinking their vote.
The 2012 ballot measure passed by a margin of 55 percent to 44 percent and put pot possession and consumption on roughly the same par as alcohol – with provisions for “drugged” driving, sale in licensed “pot shops,” and, most importantly, tax revenue on the sales.
The law went into effect on January 1, 2014, and brought tax revenue of $44 million the first year, and an astonishing $135 million on sales alone in 2015.
Those figures don’t begin to estimate the revenue generated by the pot tourism industry that boasts everything from commercial tours of pot shops to organized vacation packages sold by travel agents.
The revenue was a welcome windfall, especially at a time when many other states are struggling through the long, slow economic recovery from the Great Recession, but the legalization of pot also brought problems along with the economic boon.
Homelessness, especially in downtown Denver’s parks and its outdoor 16th Street Mall, has risen as state officials note the flood of transients who have come to Colorado in search of legal pot, but not in search of a job.
The lack of shelter, especially in the winter months, hunger, and the need for medical services are putting a strain on organizations like the Salvation Army and county governments, while crimes like public indecency, assaults, theft, and vagrancy are taking up more police time.
But Colorado prosecutors say they have noticed a more serious and disturbing trend – an increase in murders that involve marijuana.
District Attorney George Brauchler of Arapahoe County, which abuts the City and County of Denver, says the increased crime associated with legal pot is sometimes violent, which “is not what you’d expect with pot – you expect it with harder core drugs.”
Brauchler said it isn’t dealers who are committing the crimes, but rather small-time street sellers “getting killed for their marijuana and money. If cash is the only way to acquire marijuana, then crime – sometimes violent – follows.”