The debate over whether to legalize marijuana has raged for over 50 years in North America. The decision by the state government of Colorado to legalize marijuana use in 2014 thus attracted a lot of attention.
One argument that had been made in favor of legalization was that the government could make money off of the resultant taxes – which proved to be the case. By the end of the most recent financial year in June 2016, the state of Colorado had earned over $70 million from the so-called “weed tax.”
The question now facing the citizens of Colorado: What should they do with that money? In May, 2016, the government of Aurora, the third largest city in the state, decided to spend at least a third of their $4.5 million dollar share on programs to benefit the homeless. By the end of the current financial year, the city government will pay $1.5 million dollars to groups that provide food and hostels for the homeless. Over the next three years, the city government will give an additional $1.5 million to such organizations.
Aurora’s government hasn’t finished choosing which organizations or projects it will back, but they have made some decisions. The Colfax Community Network, for example, will receive $220,000 this year towards their operating costs. The Network aids homeless families and runs educational and recreational programs for children.
The Comities Crisis Center and Aurora Mental Health will each receive funds for hiring two care workers and buying a van. These organizations will thus be able to reach homeless people who can’t pay for public transportation and therefore can’t get to the organizations’ walk-in centers.
One Aurora Housing Association will receive $45,000 to pay their landlord coordinator’s salary. Landlords often reject rental applications from homeless people, and a landlord coordinator acts as a liaison between landlords and tenants or prospective tenants.
Aurora’s city government is also considering the possibility of constructing a series of day centers where homeless people can do laundry, take showers and receive mental health care.
These early decisions have been widely praised as proof that legalizing marijuana can benefit society rather than hurt it. Bob Roth, a City Councilman, believes it also shows people that local governments can make a difference in people’s lives. He said, “We wanted to be able to show citizens that we are having a positive impact on the community and point to specific projects or initiatives to where that money is going to.”