Legal Weed Blamed For Transforming Colorado Town Into Panhandler Haven

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Residents of a popular Colorado resort town are blaming marijuana legalization for a massive increase in homelessness, panhandling and drug use.

Durango, Colo., is known for their luxury resorts that annually attract waves of tourists but since the legalization of marijuana residents say the community is attracting a very different crowd. Regular pot users are flocking to the community, as are transients and panhandlers, many of which openly beg for marijuana on the street, reports Fox News.

Local businesses are reporting spikes in shop lifting as a result. Business leaders in the city, who rely heavily on the economic lift of summer tourism, met May 12 to address vagrants loitering outside their store fronts and restaurants.

“Just this year there has been a major influx of people between 20 to 30 who are just hanging out on the streets,” Caleb Preston, a store manager in a local gift shop, told Fox News. “The problem is while many are pretty mellow, there are many more who are violent. Most of the kids here are from out of state, and I would say it has a lot to do with the legalized pot.”

Residents say the influx is predominantly coming from New Mexico and Arizona but note there are people coming from all over the country, including New York. Community members are also growing concerned with the use of narcotics in the city, which is reportedly increasing. (RELATED: Denver Library Turns Into A Den For Drug Deals And Heroin Use)

“Legalized marijuana has drawn a lot of kids here from other states and the impact has not all been good,” Matthew Marinseck, a self-described former hippie, told Fox News. “[The] city really started freaking out when they started seeing needles in the streets.”

A small police presence in the city is also making it difficult to address the issue. The Durango Police Department only have five officers on patrol per shift to cover roughly 20 square miles. Property crime is reportedly 12 percent above the national average and the department, which consists of 50 officers, is having a difficult time keeping up.

The police chief is hesitant to blame the city’s ills on the rising homeless population or the legalization of marijuana, saying he cannot make any definitive conclusions.

The Colorado Department of Revenue revealed in February marijuana dispensaries throughout the state sold roughly $1.3 billion worth of medical and recreational pot last year, the third straight year of growth. The state government pulled in roughly $200 million through tax revenue and fees from sales.

Revenue from marijuana sales goes towards various programs in the state, from school construction to public health initiatives. Recreational weed dominated sales in 2016, accounting for roughly $875 million of the total, while medical marijuana earned roughly $438 million.

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