Legal Cannabis: The Next Frontier In Fighting Homelessness?

Legal marijuana and affordable housing might not instantly seem to have much to do with one another. But a proposed 15 percent tax on medical marijuana sales could, strangely, be a boon for the 19,000 or so people who sleep on the streets of Los Angeles each night, according to recent reports from The LAist.

The homelessness crisis in the city is so severe that last year, mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the Los Angeles City Council declared the inadequacy of shelter space a state of emergency.

In states with legal recreational cannabis, the millions of dollars in tax revenue generated by the industry are being used for a range of feel-good initiatives ranging from funding schools, to policing and mental health services, to educating kids about responsible drug use.

Tax revenue generally dedicated to health, youth education

As J. Skyler McKinley, deputy director of Colorado's Office of Marijuana Coordination, told the Huffington Post, the tax revenue is generally dedicated to initiatives that have some connection to public concerns around legalization, like health and restricting access for young people.

"Our philosophy has been that marijuana pays its own way," said McKinley. "Every dime we bring in from legalization is dedicated to the cost of legalization. That's regulatory framework first, then public education campaigns about safe and responsible use and then prevention and treatment programs."

Diverting that tax revenue to combat homelessness, however, is a fresh new approach to an age-old problem. But a lot has to happen in California before lawmakers could even start to hammer out the details. If they do, however, as the LAist points out, such a tax could raise in excess of $16.7-million each year - a welcome boost, given the estimated $2 billion that LA's plan to end homelessness could cost to execute.

In light of all this, it looks like the efforts to get the Adult Use of Marijuana Act on the Nov. 8 ballot could be unexpectedly significant - not just for cannabis consumers, but for some of the city's most vulnerable and disenfranchised citizens.

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For cannabis enthusiasts living in adult use states, long gone are the days of sneaking around with a dime bag in a coat pocket and worrying about whether the neighbors know you’ve got weed. But the sad truth is that, for millions of Americans living in prohibition or restrictive medical-only states, accessing safe and regulated cannabis is still a problem. But does that mean that those living without access to the regulated market are abstaining from cannabis altogether?

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