[dropcap class=”kp-dropcap”]M[/dropcap]edia outlets across the nation have been attempting to link legal cannabis with the rising rates of homelessness in Colorado. Homelessness is an ongoing issue in Pueblo County and other areas of the state, but recently, data reveals cannabis is not to blame.
However, there is no significant correlation between cannabis and homelessness in Pueblo County, according to an extensive pilot study conducted by Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research (ICR) to observe the socioeconomic impacts of legal cannabis. The real culprit, researchers observed, could be rising utility costs, not cannabis. The findings indicate that cannabis sales haven’t impacted homelessness rates one way or the other.
“We were not able to find precise quantitative evidence to state to what extent the increase in homelessness in Pueblo County in recent years can be attributable to the legalization of recreational cannabis.”
The draft version of the study was presented to the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners on March 12, and the complete study was released March 26. Funding for the study was provided by state and local taxes and the project was commissioned by the Board of Pueblo County Commissioners in 2016. The study was completed at the end of 2017.
The 218-page study consisted of the following three categories: Social impact, economic impact and water and energy impact. Each category was further split up into subcategories.
Dr. Rick Kreminski is director of the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University-Pueblo and a lead investigator in the study. “We’ve emphasized that the study is preliminary,” Kreminski told CULTURE. “In many instances, published or otherwise verified data were not directly available—there are a lot of data holes, and one goal of the Institute of Cannabis Research is to help identify those holes and see what we can do to find good data sources, or help entities collect more and better/reliable data. Many issues in social science research are complex and often reliable quantitative data aren’t available.”
Colorado has attracted “trimmigrants,” medical cannabis refugees and other migrants from a number of states seeking out looser cannabis laws. Migrant workers were observed for any potential impact on poverty or homelessness, but researchers found that “out-of-state migrants to Colorado generally bring college degrees, experience and affluence that enriches Colorado.”
“The issue of homelessness is very complex, involving many factors—e.g. high housing costs, high utility costs, availability and pay rates of jobs and related poverty, family issues, mental health issues and substance abuse, to name just a few,” Kreminski added. “Given our resources, we couldn’t, for instance, attempt to interview all the homeless. We were not able to find precise quantitative evidence to state to what extent the increase in homelessness in Pueblo County in recent years can be attributable to the legalization of recreational cannabis; there surely are some individuals who have come to Pueblo to seek jobs in the industry, for instance, and have struggled and found themselves homeless—but how many? Homelessness in Pueblo has a large seasonal/transient component.”
The real reason for the rise in homelessness in Pueblo, the research suggests, could be disconnected utilities. Black Hills Energy is the area’s leading source of disconnected utilities, which forces people out of their homes and ultimately leads to homelessness.
Officials in Pueblo County need additional research to understand the underlying problem behind the rising rate of homelessness in the area.