Colorado Weed Money Will Help Opioid Addicts, Fund School Programs

New legislation could redirect Rocky Mountain marijuana tax revenue in the right direction.

Cannabis has been crucial to the Colorado economy since it became legal in 2012. So much so that marijuana left a more than $2.39 billion impact on state finances in 2015. And as tax revenues earned from the Rocky Mountain weed business continue to bolster state budgets––to the tune of more than $105 million in 2016––Governor John Hickenlooper last week signed SB17-254.

The “2017-18 Long Appropriations Bill” is a piece of legislation designed to use the state’s weed money to provide a much-needed injection of funds into school budgets. Additionally, the weedy funds will benefit the state’s most at-risk homeless population, substantiate resources to reduce the fallout of the state’s substance-abuse crisis, and cut into Colorado’s still illegal marijuana marketplace.

From Gov. Hickenlooper’s Office:

“ . . . This budget provides $15.3 million from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to provide permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing assistance for individuals with behavioral health needs, and for individuals experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.”

“. . . HB17-1220 and HB17-1221 create the authority and resources needed to combat and prevent the illegal diversion of medical marijuana to unregulated markets, or ‘gray market’ activity. In addition to placing a new 12-plant cap on the number of plants that can be possessed or grown on a residential property, these bills also create a grant program totaling $5.9 million from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund reimburse local governments for law enforcement and prosecution costs associated with gray and black marijuana markets.”
“. . . The Department of Education received an increase of $9.7 million from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to augment a program that offers matching grants to School Districts, Local Education Authorities, and charter schools to increase the presence of health professionals in secondary schools. These grants are estimated to increase by 150 the number of school health professionals statewide, providing education, universal screening, referral, and care coordination for students with substance abuse and other behavioral health needs.”

“. . .The Department of Human Services received $7.1 million from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund aimed at ending the use of jails for holding people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and to implement criminal justice diversion programs at the local level.”

The bill also directs $500,000 toward developing a medication-based treatment program designed to fight the state’s opioid crisis––part of a larger nation-wide epidemic

According to Denver’s ABC affiliate, “Narcan or similar opioid-overdose reversal drugs were used to halt 140 overdoses in Pueblo in 2015, and drug overdoses in northern Colorado's Routt County went up by nearly 600 percent from 2014 to 2016. . . Both counties currently have a combined four doctors who are able to provide treatment with medication to opioid addicts.”

And though Hickenlooper was not in favor of legal weed when Colorado voters approved a pilot program, the Democrat governor has since been instrumental in turning the state’s recreational and medical programs into models for others to follow.

“You don’t get to choose what your legacy is,” Hickenlooper said to reporters reflecting on his experience leading Colorado through the legal weeds.

After signing this bill, his legacy as a champion of weed should be set in stone.