They wander the streets, clutching handmade cardboard signs, looking for handouts, and one Colorado town is placing the blame for the rising number of panhandlers on the legalization of marijuana in the state.
As communities continue to fight over the legalization of marijuana, in some cases long after cannabis use has been approved by voters, some Colorado residents are taking things a little too far. Some Colorado business owners claimed this week that the normally picturesque resort town has undergone an unwanted transformation, and cannabis is to blame. According to local, the once lovely town of Durango has been overrun by crazed panhandlers, courtesy of marijuana legalization.
Matthew Marinseck, speaking from his preferred spot in front of a local shop and holding a homemade cardboard sign asking for help stated
“Legalized marijuana has drawn a lot of kids here from other states and the impact has not all been good.”
A stroll through Durango does reveal some people asking for assistance cardboard sign – going so far as to draw marijuana leaves on the signs themselves. According to Marinseck, marijuana is not the largest problem faced in the city. “[The] city really started freaking out when they started seeing needles in the streets.”
Local shopkeeper Caleb Preston, however, feels that the panhandling is the biggest problem.
“Just this year there has been a major influx of people between 20 to 30 who are just hanging out on the streets,” Preston said. “The problem is while many are pretty mellow, there are many more who are violent.”
Preston reported that he has begun kicking these new arrivals off his porch and yard when they appear near his business. He explained,,
“Most of the kids here are from out of state, and I would say it has a lot to do with the legalized pot.”
Preston also stated that an increase in crime, particularly shoplifting, accompanies the new arrivals. A recent meeting of the Durango Business Improvement District was focused on coming up with solutions for dealing with the panhandlers as the summer tourist season draws near.
Business owners suggested everything from more strict laws governing loitering to marketing campaigns designed to deter tourists from giving to panhandlers and directing them to local charities instead. Some businesses plan to place obstacles on the sidewalk to prevent loitering and panhandling. BID director Walsworth stated.
“We’re hoping to discourage the transient and professional panhandlers that are impacting the perceived safety and cleanliness of our downtown, as well as help those who are truly in need.”
Why blame legalization?
Local police are stretched thin, but can’t make a connection between the legalization of marijuana and the rise in crime and panhandling in the district.
While the local homeless and panhandling population has surged, the tie between the legalization of marijuana and the influx of new arrivals is tenuous. While retailers feel that the approval of recreational marijuana has invited a flood of panhandling hobos to their doorsteps, they overlook the paying customer’s legalization has provided.
What’s going on in Durango, really? Are shopkeepers right that marijuana has somehow created a flood of cannabis seeking homeless people, who exist to roam the street, clutching their cardboard signs in hope of a handout? Has legalization brought in more paying customers as well? A closer examination of the homeless problem is obviously needed in Durango, but automatically tying a problem with panhandling and crime to legal marijuana remains a stretch.