The legal marijuana industry is booming in Colorado; along with rising sales, the huge amount of tax revenue from taxes and fees is being pledged to go towards funding important public programs. Colorado has promised to spend over $15 million on housing aid in the next year in an effort to combat homelessness. In the last ten years, the number of homeless people in Colorado has fallen by over 29%, however, the number of people becoming homeless in Colorado has been on the rise in the last few years, with an astonishing 13% increase in the size of Colorado’s homeless population in 2016.
Here’s where cannabis comes in. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis, setting the stage for what has now become a movement to make cannabis legal across the United States. With the passage of Amendment 64, Colorado voters made the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis legal for residents over the age of 21. Recreational cannabis sales in Colorado began in 2014. In the five years since then, the amount of tax revenue that the state of Colorado has been able to generate from taxes and fees related to cannabis sales has been significant, exceeding even the expectations of Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper. According to government published data, in 2014 alone, Colorado generated over $67 million, including marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees. In 2015, the total amount of tax revenue on cannabis related sales increased to over $130 million, nearly doubling over the previous year. Since then, the amount of tax revenue being generated for the state of Colorado has continued to increase, with over $247 million in tax revenue in 2017. The question on everyone’s mind is this - where has that money gone?
In response to the recent increases in the number of Colorado residents becoming homeless, Gov. Hickenlooper is “doubling down.” The state will be directly combatting homelessness in Colorado by using tax revenue received from the sales of legal medical and recreational cannabis to fund public housing programs, including homeless shelters. According to the plan laid out by Gov. Hickenlooper in an appropriations bill recently signed into law, tax revenue generated from cannabis sales has been directed to the state’s “Marijuana Tax Cash Fund,” an account designated for funding public programs, including schools, mental health, housing, and addiction treatment programs. According to the bill’s wording, “we expect to reduce incarceration, hospitalization, and homelessness for many of Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens.” In the next year, over $15 million in tax revenue collected for cannabis-related sales and fees will go towards providing housing resources for the large homeless population of Colorado.
The issue has certainly been controversial; many argue that using taxes from marijuana sales to fund public programs is unethical. However, says Colorado Department of Local Affairs communications director, Denise Stepto,
“A lot of comments are made about how this money is used. People bring up schools, the irony of using revenue from a substance to help homeless people. There are places that you can use this money that makes a big difference.”