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Could Colorado's Legal Pot Help Solve Homeless Epidemic?

By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4) - Gov. John Hickenlooper was a vocal opponent of recreational marijuana when it was on the ballot. Now it may be the silver bullet to solving the issue that launched him into politics.

With marijuana profits expected break records next year, Hickenlooper wants some of that revenue to help solve Colorado's homeless epidemic.

Hickenlooper is proposing more than $16 million in spending toward nearly 1,500 permanent housing units for "chronically homeless" people, behavioral health services, and incentives for developers to make more affordable housing.

Homeless people outside the Denver Rescue Mission (credit: CBS)

Pat Coyle, deputy director at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), says the program will try to help the homeless at all points where they interact with the system -- at jails, charities, even camping on the street.

"We refer to it as the front door of homelessness," said Coyle.

DOLA estimates more than 10,000 homeless people live in Colorado.

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The proposal does not change the framework of Amendment 64, the law passed in 2012 legalizing recreational marijuana. Language in the constitutional amendment requires revenue from the recreational sale of marijuana to pay for its regulation and for profit to benefit the education system.

None of that changes under the governor's plan, according to DOLA. But new statutory language in the law would need the approval of the Legislature to reallocate some of the new profits to curbing homelessness.

"This is carving out another priority on that additional revenue," said Coyle. "This is not reducing any amount going into education."

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Generic Marijuana Legalization
(File photo. Credit: CBS)

The governor's plan comes at a precarious time for the marijuana industry. Voters in 26 states and the District of Columbia have approved some form of marijuana legalization, but the incoming Trump administration has sent mixed signals to the industry.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R- Alabama, the president-elect's choice for attorney general, is an outspoken opponent of all marijuana use. During the campaign Donald Trump indicated that marijuana laws were a state's rights issue, but the drug is still listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Coyle says the governor's proposal is dependent on marijuana thriving.

"Is it a revenue source that can continue? That's a good question, and its one in the budget process that we've considered. New states are coming online and its supply and demand."

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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