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New study says don’t pin Pueblo’s woes on legalized pot

Author: Kara Mason - March 13, 2018 - Updated: March 13, 2018

Michael and Richard Kwesell at their state-of-the-art marijuana cultivation facility in Pueblo County in 2016. (Ben Markus / Colorado Public Radio)

Despite being a nearly $60 million industry in Pueblo, selling legal cannabis has little to do with an increase in homelessness and a stagnant local economy, researchers at Colorado State University-Pueblo have concluded.

The university’s Institute of Cannabis Research released a 200-page report this week that delves into how and to what extent retail marijuana has changed the community. In 2016, voters faced the question of expelling the industry from the county, as at least one group sought to reverse opting into Amendment 64. They cited concerns with increased homelessness, more underage kids using marijuana and a swelling crime rate.

But for the most part, the ICR report debunks those claims. There are “marijuana migrants,” according to the researchers. But an increase in homelessness is more closely tied to Colorado’s booming economy and high housing costs.

“In recent times, a significant cause of homelessness has been attributed to high utility costs, i.e. to factors independent of cannabis. More, high quality data are required in this area,” the report said. “Thus far, it appears that legal cannabis has neither reduced, nor increased, existing poverty disparities between Pueblo and more affluent Colorado counties. There is evidence that homelessness has recently increased in Pueblo. The 2017 Point in Time Study indicates that Pueblo has much higher rates of homelessness than other Colorado counties.”

Crime is up in the city, according to the report. But it’s not likely because of cannabis. Marijuana seizures have decreased in the city, but not the county. Overall crime, however, seems to be increasing because  population growth is outpacing law enforcement:

“The largest increases in crime have been in property crime (particularly motor vehicle theft) and dangerous drug seizures (particularly heroin); violent crime has risen only marginally in the city, and decreased in the county; the legalization of marijuana has put more perceived pressure on patrol officers, who associate it with an influx in the transient population, which they then associate with increased property and other drug crimes; and police struggle with enforcing complex and changing marijuana laws and perceive the citizens struggle to keep up with confusing policy.”

On the subject of crime, the report said there needs to be more data collected to fully analyze the relationship.

Pueblo For Positive Impact, a Facebook page associated with the 2016 ballot question that would have banned the industry, said in a post, “The public at large doesn’t need ‘research’ to reach that conclusion. Blaming utility shut offs for the ENTIRE problem is well — living in the dark.”

But a news release from Pueblo County praised the work of the 30 P.h.D researchers that worked on the report, saying it “confirmed with real data, what a large portion of Puebloans already assumed.”

“It is incredibly exciting to have third-party, quantifiable data concerning the impact of legal cannabis in Pueblo. This data is groundbreaking in its scope and should have national relevance as other communities across the country end prohibition,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace in a news release. “Pueblo has the privilege of being the first community to be studied in this way and CSU-Pueblo is the first university to do this type of research. This is truly a momentous day.”

The full report is expected to be posted online by CSU-Pueblo by the end of the week.

Kara Mason

Kara Mason

Kara Mason covers southern Colorado, Aurora and statewide issues for She also writes for the Aurora Sentinel.