The short answer: yes, possibly.
Last month, Colorado’s third largest city announced that it will use a portion of its revenue generated from tax on recreational cannabis to support homeless people and local city nonprofits.
Aurora, Colo., expects to bring in $4.5 million from marijuana sales, according to the Aurora Sentinel. The City Council has plans to give $200,000 from the funds over the next two years to the Colfax Community Network, a nonprofit that supports and educates low-income families living in motels. Another $680,000 will be set aside for city nonprofits and an additional $2 million will also be used to issue bonds to build a new recreation center in southeast Aurora.
The Colfax Community Network began in 1999 and has been struggling in recent years to find the funds to remain in operation. The Council also approved a recommendation to put $45,000 toward making the Aurora Housing Authority’s part-time landlord coordinator a full-time position. This is because a big challenge with housing former homeless people is getting a landlord to take them in.
Homelessness is a consistently huge issue across the country, and with an entire new billion-dollar industry emerging throughout state lines, legal cannabis has the potential to offer long-term solutions to fixing homelessness—if done correctly. By 2020, total legal cannabis market sales in the country are expected to surpass $22 billion, with Massachusetts becoming a potential major player. Fifty-three percent of voters 21 years and older in Massachusetts would vote in support of legalization, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst poll. Polls this November will decide if adult-use marijuana is legalized in Massachusetts.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were over 21,000 people experienced homelessness in Massachusetts during the January/February 2015 counting period. In fact, the number of homeless people in the state has increased over the past few years, while the obstacles they face have worsened. Massachusetts has the ninth highest rental cost in the country, according to the Belmont Housing Trust, and low wages don’t keep pace with these increased costs, posing massive obstacles for people already on the brink of losing their homes. When you factor in personal health and many other issues, you see that homelessness is a uniquely complex issue to solve.
Assuming Massachusetts creates policies and regulations to sustain a prosperous and just cannabis market, sales should not only benefit business leaders but the state as a whole, including homeless families and individuals. Looking to places like Aurora as an example, the issue of cannabis legalization has a silver lining even for people not directly involved in ending prohibition. Charitable cannabis groups have already popped up in Massachusetts, such as L.E.A.F., a group of women “united by the cannabis movement who are working to improve the lives of women beyond the cannabis community.”
Massachusetts would not be alone in considering cannabis as a catalyst for social good. In March, Los Angeles also proposed a number of measures to fund housing for homeless people, including a tax on marijuana, estimated to bring in $16.7 million annually. That money would be used for permanent supportive housing and supportive services such as mobile showers and outreach.