Colorado City Using Marijuana Tax Revenue to House and Feed Homeless

The city council in Aurora, Colorado, has decided to use excess tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales to help feed, house, and support the city’s homeless. It’s not everyday that a city has excess tax dollars, but that’s exactly what’s happened to Aurora, Colorado, following the legalization of adult use marijuana. Voters in Colorado elected to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, and the state has generated tax revenue beyond the initial estimations. Colorado was expected to collect $70 million annually from cannabis sales, according to a May 2016 report by Tax Foundation. The state, however, collected more than $135 million in taxes and license fees related to cannabis sales in 2015, up 78 percent from the $76 million generated in the previous year. Aurora, the third-largest city in Colorado, is expected to earn $4.5 million over the next two years from marijuana sales. The city has agreed to allocate $1.5 million of it for homeless services, the Aurora Sentinel reports. At the end of April, city council members voted how to spend the extra revenue. Of the $1.5 million, $220,000 will go to the Colfax Community Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the transient, low-income families living in motels “along Colorado’s roughest stretch of avenue.” The organization, founded in 1991, provides families with food, clothing, diapers, toiletries, and other necessities. “The Colfax Community Network is in extremely dire straits in that they do not have funds to continue operating,” said Nancy Sheffield, director of Aurora neighborhood services. Additionally, a pair of vans costing no more than $92,000 will be purchased and given to Comitis Crisis Center and Aurora Mental Health. Comitis Crisis Center, Inc. is Aurora’s homeless center serving homeless Veterans, runaway and homeless youth, and homeless families. Aurora Mental Health is a private, non-profit community health organization that serves Aurora residents with mental health needs. Also, $4,000 will be used to compensate outreach workers who will operate each of the vans. “We wanted to be able to show citizens that we are having a positive impact on the community and point to specific projects or initiatives to where that money is going to,” said City Councilman Bob Roth. Aurora City Council members have funded the homeless supporting organizations through the duration of the city’s 2016-2017 budget. The nonprofits’ will be assessed and evaluated following the funding period, and it will be decided then whether to continue the funding. Steve Hogan, Aurora’s mayor, expressed reservations for providing over a year of funding to the Colfax Community Network. “I believe there’s a value to it beyond just what it does,” said Hogan. “That value is that it’s an organization that’s been around for years. Organizations that have been around for years tend to catch the eye of funding foundations. The problem with Colfax Community Network is, in my view, there were a lot of well-intentioned people who had no idea how to go out and get money. That’s why they’re in trouble now. Saving it makes sense to me.” Recreational marijuana sales in Aurora started in October 2014 with just a few stores opening at first. The city estimates it will bring in nearly $6.4 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2017, and six more marijuana retail stores are expected to open in the next year. The city of Aurora applies a 3.75 sales tax on recreational marijuana. Throughout the state of Colorado, medical and recreational marijuana is subject to a 2.9 percent sales tax, and recreational marijuana a 10 percent special sales tax. The state generated just over $135 million in the 2015 calendar year, and nearly a quarter of that total, or $35 million, was reserved specifically for school construction.]]>