Colorado survey suggests legal marijuana is attracting homeless people

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(CNN)A new survey in Colorado suggests that more than one-third of homeless jail inmates who have come to the state since 2012 have come, at least in part, because of legal marijuana.

But the survey, commissioned by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, is getting mixed reviews: from a sheriff who says the results are no surprise, to a marijuana lobbyist who called it "irrelevant."
The survey of 507 mostly homeless inmates housed in seven city and county jails was aiming to shed light on the claim made largely by law enforcement: that legal marijuana is attracting transient homeless people to Colorado.
    But the head of the agency that commissioned the study said it hardly puts the question to rest. It found that of the homeless inmates sampled, most had come to Colorado before legalization. The rest, about 41%, came after 2012, when Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Of the sample, 77 inmates fit that description, or roughly 1% of the total population of the jails that were surveyed. Thirty-five percent of those inmates said legal marijuana was among the reasons they came to Colorado.
    "That's not insignificant," said Stan Hilkey, the executive director of Colorado's Department of Public Safety. "We know that marijuana is one of the reasons that it's drawn some of the people here since legalization. It's not the top reason, but remains one of the reasons."
    The most common reason was "to get away from a problem."
    Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper downplayed the results of the survey, but stressed the need for more data. "They did [the survey] on the cheap," he said. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, points out that just two homeless inmates surveyed who arrived in Colorado post-legalization chose only marijuana as their reason for coming, though inmates were free to select multiple responses. It's unclear how many chose only one response.
    "That is a pretty small number," he said. "Marijuana, was that something that made them come here? Again, I don't doubt that a third of them did. Does that mean we're attracting criminals? We're attracting a lot of people, and when you attract a lot of people you get some homeless people."
    Tom Luehrs, the executive director of Denver's St. Francis Center, said he doesn't need a survey to know that marijuana has drawn more transient people to Denver and through the doors of his homeless shelter.
    "We've seen that over the past several years," he said, adding a lack of solid research has made it easy for skeptics to ignore the issue.
    Luehrs said his shelter did its own informal research that confirmed that marijuana is a driving factor in attracting homeless people to the city in many cases.
    "We're caring for people that other states are not caring for," he said, though he is optimistic that marijuana legalization in other states will shift