Health

Pot Laws in Colorado Exacerbate Homeless Population

'When you legalize marijuana, you open the door to a whole new level of hell,' says one unhappy Denver resident

The city of Denver is grappling with a growing homeless problem, and some people blame marijuana legalization for attracting a growing number of drug users now living on the street.

Colorado’s homeless population jumped 13 percent from 2015 to 2016, despite that nationally, homelessness declined by 3 percent during the same time period, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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While some blame pot laws, others place the blame on the state’s housing dearth.

The state’s booming economy has brought in people from all over the country. So many that home and apartment construction has not kept pace, meaning that even some people with jobs find themselves living on the streets of cities like Denver.

“As our unemployment rate continues to decline,” explains Denver’s homeless czar, Erik Solivan, “we have a number of service workers, folks working at construction sites, working at our ballparks, and our service industry, who cannot afford the rent.”

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Solivan says three quarters of the city’s homeless work.

Following complaints from downtown businesses, Denver instituted an urban camping ban to keep people from spending the night on city sidewalks, in parks and other public spaces. Last year, the city began a series of sweeps to enforce the camping ban, gathering up tents, sleeping bags and other belongings from homeless people to put into storage.

“They took all my stuff,” complains Charlie Berry, who says he’s been homeless for several years because of a double hernia operation that didn’t work. “All my clothes and all my bedding and everything, and (they) threw it in the trash and hauled it away like it was nothing.”

Lane, one of the attorneys involved in a federal class-action lawsuit against the city on behalf of the homeless, says Denver’s actions violated people’s constitutional right to due process.

“If somebody’s there, they get a receipt for their property. If nobody’s there, their property is simply taken and essentially their home has been removed from them.”

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Though there are no hard statistics to back it up, some people — including Charlie Berry, who grew up in Denver — say some of the homeless have come to Colorado for legalized marijuana.

“Basically, all they want to do is just come here and smoke pot,” Berry said. “When you legalize marijuana, you open the door to a whole new level of hell.”

Since Denver began cracking down, homeowners and businesses on the periphery of downtown say the problem has just moved outward to where they are located. (go to page 2 to continue reading) [lz_pagination]

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