Proponents of legalization say that making pot legal will do wonders for our society. We can expect lowered crime, relief for the overcrowded prison system, and tons of extra revenue for states. But despite all the hoopla concerning the legalization of marijuana and its supposed benefits, there are some downsides to its legal status. Since Colorado was one of the first states to make recreational use legal, it makes sense to examine the effects there since Amendment 64 passed in 2012.
First of all, in most of the major cities in Colorado, places like Denver, Colorado Springs and resort towns like Durango, have all seen a significant spike in the homeless population since pot became legal. According to a Fox News article last May, a homeless vagrant in Durango, named Matthew Marinseck claims “Legalized marijuana has drawn a lot of kids here from other states and the impact has not all been good.” These kids typically don’t find employment, and instead, beg the public for spare coins.
In towns like Durango, which depends on tourist dollars to survive, all the panhandlers littering the streets in hopes of a little cash for weed, detract from the natural beauty of the city. Many of these panhandlers, mostly 20 and 30 year-olds, have arrived from other states like Arizona and New Mexico, but some from as far away as New York and all are looking for the same thing, money to buy pot. If you visit Durango, you will notice signs encouraging you to donate to charities, such as homeless shelters, rather than giving money to panhandlers and exacerbating the problem.
More than the negative aesthetic quality of people lying on the street, petty crime in Durango, such as shoplifting has gone way up and most suppose that is also due to the vagrant population. Worse yet, some of the panhandlers are not only using marijuana, but harder illegal drugs as well. Marinseck tells Fox News, “[The] city really started freaking out when they started seeing needles in the streets.”
Dealing with the panhandling problem has become more difficult since the Brown versus City of Grand Junction ruling in 2015, when a federal judge in Denver said that street solicitation and panhandling ordinances against the practice were illegal because they inflicted on the first amendment rights of an individual to express himself freely. But what about the general population? How are they feeling about the increased crime and vagrancy? One resident in Durango, according to Fox News, says, “I’ve lived here my entire life and don’t feel safe here anymore. If it wasn’t so beautiful here, I would probably move.”
According to an article in the Colorado Springs Independent, the spike in homelessness has led to other problems. J. Adrian Stanley says the trash in community parks has become out of control. He says it goes beyond blankets and old clothes; there’s used needles, pornography and feces that can leak into the city’s waterways. Police officers patrolling the parks offer assistance and information about shelters, but in 2016, of the 1302 homeless people in Colorado Springs (up 21 percent from the previous year), 311 simply bunked outdoors. That figure is up 28 percent from 2015.
Panhandling and homelessness haven’t been the only downsides to legalization. Crime is up as well. In 2014, the Huffington Post declared that the Denver Police statistics show that across all crime types — about 35 in all — the crime rate is up almost 7 percent compared with the same period the previous year. Interestingly, crimes such as public drunkenness are up 237 percent, and drug violations are up 20 percent. What does all of this mean? Legalization advocates cannot deny the correlation between marijuana being legal and the increase in crime. What’s really interesting is that the availability of legal pot hasn’t done anything to curb the sale of it on the black market in the state, which is still illegal. The illegal stuff is cheaper than the kind you’d get at a dispensary, which is the main draw of keeping your current dealer.
Another negative consequence of legalization has been on the agricultural side. Cannabis farms are different from regular crops because they cannot use pesticides. This has impacted farmers in close proximity to them because of the potential spread of pests, fungi and molds. These agricultural implications of growing marijuana were evidently not a consideration at the time it became a legal crop.
Pueblo county, which grows about 30 percent of the state’s legal marijuana is getting some backlash. A group called Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo wants to shut down all recreational cannabis businesses in their county by the end of October 2017. They are lobbying for the shut-down because they claim higher crime and homelessness rates have negatively impacted their communities. Regardless, the crops bring in a lot of money for the county, so change is unlikely.
Another reality has been the potential for overdose among children. According to Children’s Hospital in Colorado, some kids mistake “edible” marijuana (like gummy bears, brownies, lollipops, etc.) for regular food and eat it unknowingly. These children are at a higher risk of overdose from THC, the chemical in pot which gives the high, and many children have had to be hospitalized. As of last October, Colorado began requiring that all “edibles” be marked with “THC” to help keep these products out of the hands and mouths of innocent children.
As disheartening as some of these detriments are, they probably won’t affect current legalization in Colorado, due to the fact that the state collected almost $70 million in marijuana taxes during 2015 alone. Some of that money will be going to combat homelessness, increase policing efforts, and put new regulations in place to accommodate the other various ills of legalized pot. But time will tell whether Amendment 64 proves to be a predominantly positive piece of legislation in the state of Colorado.