Maybe you’ve felt the housing crunch in Colorado – maybe your lease has run out and your landlord is selling the place out from under you, or renting it for twice what you were paying. You and your family may have been looking for a home in the Denver area and found that the prices are astronomical compared to a few years ago. This is all part of Denver’s new cannabis economy, and while it’s generally good for all types of businesses in the area, not everyone can afford it. While the mayor is trying to address the lack of housing, there is a group of people being affected on the fringes of Colorado society, and also being mostly ignored: medical migrants. We know that there is a large influx of medical cannabis-seeking families and individuals into Colorado (and those numbers continue to grow) because legalization in many other states is still bogged down in the legislative process. What do these families and people look like? Where are they living? What are they giving up to come to Colorado, and where are they finding help in the community?
Medical Migrants: Why Are They Coming to Colorado?
As a state of firsts, Colorado is home to a cannabis movement that continues to drive the discoveries, availability, and innovation of medical cannabis on a major scale. While other states are not far behind, Colorado is still the place you travel to if your loved one is sick and in need of the best medicinal cannabis that exists. As the New York Times reported two years ago, over 100 families had moved to Colorado just for seizure-control medications for their children. Since then, the applications of medical marijuana have continued to expand, and there is no end in sight. Applications for cancer patients, Crohn’s disease sufferers, veterans and soldiers with PTSD, Alzheimer’s sufferers, schizophrenics, those on the autism spectrum, and others have emerged in the past few years. This doesn’t include those who simply know cannabis helps them physically and mentally in many ways, whether a scientist in a lab has confirmed it or not.
These migrants come largely from states where cannabis is still illegal – places like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, and Wyoming, among others. In their desperation to help their loved ones heal, attain a semblance of normal life, be able to communicate and concentrate, or halt the confusion and cost of traditional pharmaceuticals, these families and individuals will do whatever it takes to obtain the medicine they need – often using cannabis and cannabis-infused oils. All it takes for these migrants to pick up and leave everything they have built in their lives is a day without pain, confusion, or rage for the people they love.
Where Are Medical Migrants Living?
When you pick up and move from the place you’ve known for most or all of your life, you leave everything behind. Medical migrants (also called marijuana refugees) often quit their jobs (and one or both caretakers, guardians, or parents may have already been staying home to provide care for their loved ones), sell their houses to fund the move and living expenses in Colorado, and leave all family and friends behind. All this in order to obtain cannabis legally, at no risk to them or the loved ones who need treatment. In Vice’s Weediquette, Krishna Andavolu interviews medical migrants who moved from Texas to help their daughter get the medicine that allows her to lead a more comfortable in life in general. For them, it was worth quitting their jobs and moving to a camper to Colorado with no jobs, friends, or family. They do not want to be arrested for using medical cannabis, as might happen in many other states. With all the things they must deal with every day, the last thing they want to worry about is jail or prison time, or custody battles with state governments. So until the federal government removes cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 drugs, they must come to the state where the technology, medical research, and availability of medicine that can help is most common: Colorado.
With Colorado’s living space already at a premium, available homes continue to grow more and more scarce, although construction and real estate companies are throwing up housing as fast as they can. Many families have to leave one parent or breadwinner home in order to work and provide income while new medical treatments are tried in Colorado, and where kids can be registered as medical cannabis patients legally. In 2014, John Ingold of the Denver Post reported that 427 children were on Colorado’s medical marijuana registry. In January of 2016, 349 children were registered; 352 in February; and in 343 in March. That’s a total of 1,044 patients in just three months. All of these people and their families must find places to live in order to continue medical cannabis treatments.
How Do Medical Migrants Get Help in Colorado?
According to Jack Healy of the New York Times, these families have formed support groups for each other when possible, conferring about how much the seizure rates for their children have dropped, or how much more their autistic children are able to communicate. As Ingold pointed out, conventional (read: Western) medicine has failed many of these children, and parents are at their wits’ end with symptoms and situations they are barely equipped to deal with, in many cases. The challenge of getting the medicine their children need is only one of the vast array of issues they and their children face in daily life.
How Many Medical Migrants Are in Colorado?
Unfortunately, Colorado is not currently tracking the number of people who come here as medical migrants, and it would be quite difficult to do so – although it was estimated by Ingold to be in the lower hundreds – without requiring people to declare their reason for being here at the border. Only the cannabis dispensaries and the local government might have that information, but they are not making it public. In the meantime these families may be camping, living out of motor homes, living with family and friends, in hotels, and buying property if they can afford it. Regardless of how they are living, there is no doubt that they are here, and they will continue to come.
What the Future Looks Like for Colorado’s Medical Migrants
In its March 2nd issue, U.S. News and World Report named Denver the best place to live in the country – no mean feat. As The Denver Times recently reported, Colorado’s infrastructure is not necessarily equipped to deal with the additional people; our hugely expensive public transportation lines are still in the works, and many highways are overloaded. The good news is that the cannabis revenue, job growth, and companies moving in droves to Colorado promise new jobs and increased money for infrastructure development all over the state. As Colorado’s growth continues, and the medical migrant population increases, housing and employment issues will have to be addressed by the state government, to say the least. For now, these families and patients must continue to rely on Facebook pages or temporary Internet pages in order to communicate and learn about possible dosages and methods for giving children and others the proper amount of cannabis, and hope that the jobs and the places to live materialize in affordable ways.