The Other Side of Colorado’s Booming Pot Industry

102815_The Other Side of Colorado's Booming Pot Industry 

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It’s no secret that Colorado has been benefiting a lot from the marijuana industry, recording $60.7 million in recreational pot sales last June. But what is probably surprising is that the unassuming city of Pueblo, with a population of just over 100,000, is now being seen as the possible Silicon Valley of marijuana. And people are flocking to get their share of the industry.

“I call it the pot rush,” said Anne Stattelman, director of Pueblo’s Posada, a nonprofit organization helping homeless families. Pueblo has recently seen an onslaught of people relocating to the city, attracted by the city’s legal pot and low cost of living. But instead of finding gold, many are left homeless.

“Many people leave stable situations and maybe even have housing vouchers where they’re from. But they hear about Pueblo on the Internet and how it’s this cheap place to live,” Stattelman said in an interview with The Guardian. “They think they can find jobs. They uproot their kids. And then they don’t have money for a rental deposit or much else when they get here.”

As a result, the county’s social services are being drained. “It used to be that we helped a lot of people who were stretched very thin,” said Edie De La Torre, executive director of Pueblo’s Cooperative Care Center. “Now we have people coming in from out of state who call us and say they’re staying at a motel, they need food or maybe their medication, but they aren’t residents of Pueblo County.”

Though there are no statistics proving that people are coming to the town for the pot, some people readily admit it. “A lot of people will give me a copy of their medical marijuana card or will just say, ‘Hey, I’ll be honest with you, I came here to get into the industry,'” said Mona Montoya, director of operations of the Cooperative Care.

After all, the first year of legal marijuana sales in Colorado in 2014 saw pot bring in $16.28 million worth of sales and $1.3 million worth of sales tax and licensing fees in Pueblo County. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said that marijuana legalization provided an economic boon to the county, with 36 percent of all construction projects in the area last 2014 being related to the cannabis sector.

“The question I ask is, ‘Has pot made Pueblo safer, better, or more prosperous?'” asks Stattelman. “I have no problem with pot. If the entire country legalizes, I say go for it. I understand that everyone didn’t see these unintended consequences. But now that it’s happened, we need help.”

“People come to Pueblo for opportunity that is not here,” she said.

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