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Hickenlooper wants weed money to fund housing 

CannaBiz

According to Amendment 64, the first $40 million in tax revenue collected from legal marijuana sales each year must go to public school construction.

After that, statute dictates that 15 percent of revenues go to local jurisdictions in amounts proportionate to the sales figures they post. The remaining 85 percent goes into the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, earmarked for health care, education, law enforcement, and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs. The premise is that cash made off weed should be spent addressing its impacts.

Next year, Gov. John Hickenlooper would like to add a new spending category: housing and homeless services. The justification? It's a social issue that's been exacerbated by legalization.

Increased spending is possible because in 2015, the state generated more than $135 million in total revenue from taxing the marijuana industry. In 2016, the pie will likely be bigger. (Year-to-date collection totals in September, according to the Department of Regulatory Agencies, were nearly double that of last year.)

In his 2017-18 budget request, Hickenlooper asks state lawmakers to allocate about $12 million in annual marijuana tax revenue to the construction of new housing units for homeless residents. His five-year goal is to build 1,200 permanent supportive housing units for chronically homeless people and 300 rapid re-housing units for people experiencing episodic homelessness. The proposal does not specify where the units would be built.

The governor is also requesting $4 million a year from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to house people with behavioral health needs, with the five-year goal there to add around 350 permanent supportive housing units.

Some local governments already use marijuana tax revenue to address homelessness. Aurora, for example, gave $4.5 million of its weed money to nonprofits, while Pueblo granted $25,000 to a pilot program that gives bus vouchers to homeless people wanting to reunite with family.

But for the state government to follow suit, the legislature would need to expand the accepted uses of marijuana tax revenue. A request for such legislation is included in the governor's proposed budget. If the proposal is approved, it would mark a shift in state policy toward the speculated intersection between homelessness and legalized marijuana.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports, homelessness has declined nationwide. Colorado also saw a decline until 2013 — the year recreational marijuana launched. Then, HUD data shows our homeless population began to grow. No link has been proven, so the Colorado Department of Public Safety has commissioned a study of homeless inmates in county jails to see how many of them came to Colorado either to use cannabis or work in the industry. Those forthcoming results could help bolster the governor's budgetary requests.

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