Marijuana Legalization is Closely Linked to the Homelessness Crisis

There’s no question that marijuana and other drugs – in combination with mental illness or other disabling conditions – are essential contributors to chronic homelessness.”   Senator John Hickenlooper made that statement when he was governor of Colorado in 2017.

This is one of the results of the legalization of marijuana in Denver, and we’re going to have to deal with it.”  Mayor Michael Hancock was talking about a violent incident on 16th Street Mall.  He described the “urban travelers” who came to Denver following legalization.  That was seven years ago, and a new mayor will have to deal with the problem, a problem that now extends to more cities.

Photos of unhoused people living in squalid camps of Los Angeles (shown above), Portland and Seattle show up in our social media feeds.  They’re taking over the streets in San Francisco, Vancouver and Denver.  New York City, with its 1400 illegal pot shops, has a growing homeless population, too.

And although homelessness is a national problem, and substance abuse is not the only cause, the common factor of the worst-hit cities and states is legalized marijuana. In some areas, it has reached crisis levels.  Even local leaders have declared a state of emergency to address the urgency of the situation.

Drug propagandists advocated long and hard to establish the “West Coast of Weed,” an area that has become the epicenter of the crisis. British Columbia which connects the western US to Alaska, is home to Vancouver which also has extreme problems of drug abuse and homelessness.

It’s NOT a Coincidence

Reviewing the statistics, a link between marijuana legalization and homelessness appears undeniable. Take a look at the homelessness crisis in some of the most pro-marijuana cities in America (19 of the top 20 have legalized marijuana)

How ironic that our wealthiest cities – cities with high-paying, high-tech jobs, have the most homelessness! Partially, it’s because of the tolerance and respect for drug use in these cities. But it’s also because those cities have policies that promote drug tourism and encourage people to use drugs.  

An article in the Seattle Times showed homelessness rates are much higher in states where recreational cannabis is legal than in states where it is not.

A homeless encampment in Washington State, 2020, from the state Department of Ecology,

Highest (All Legal States)

Homeless persons per 10,000 residents

  • New York: 45
  • California: 41
  • Oregon: 35
  • Washington: 35
  • Massachusetts: 26

Lowest (All Illegal)

  • Ohio: 9
  • Texas: 9
  • Pennsylvania: 10
  • Florida: 13

The unhoused population is so much lower in Texas and Florida, even though they are the second and third most populous states.  Both have warm climates that are expected to attract those without a permanent home.

Of special relevance, it is not just the rate of homelessness in legalization states, but also how fast the unhoused population is growing. Not surprisingly, the states with the largest increases between 2007 and 2021 allow recreational use: