The picturesque town near the New Mexico border, once a vibrant, upscale community dotted with luxury hotels, is being overrun by panhandlers – thanks, in part, to the legalization of marijuana.
The town suddenly became a haven for recreational pot users, drawing in transients, panhandlers and a large number of homeless drug addicts, according to officials and business owners. Many are coming from New Mexico, Arizona and even New York.
“Legalized marijuana has drawn a lot of kids here from other states and the impact has not all been good,” said Marinseck, 58, while holding a cardboard sign asking for “help.”
Several people holding cardboard signs could be seen along the streets of Durango now. Some just ask for marijuana, or imply that’s what they want with a photo of a green pot leaf. But it’s not just pot users being drawn to Durango.
“[The] city really started freaking out when they started seeing needles in the streets” said Marinseck, a self-avowed former hippie.
Caleb Preston, a store manager in a gift shop and a former “street entertainer,” said the homeless and panhandling issue in Durango has gotten out of hand since the state legalized marijuana.
“Just this year there has been a major influx of people between 20 to 30 who are just hanging out on the streets,” Preston said. “The problem is while many are pretty mellow, there are many more who are violent.”
Preston said he’s become accustomed to kicking out vagrants who perch themselves in front of his store.
“Most of the kids here are from out of state, and I would say it has a lot to do with the legalized pot,” said Preston.
He said he’s also noticed an uptick in crime in the area. Shoplifting, he said, has become a major problem in Durango and business owners are becoming fed up.
The city’s Business Improvement District held a meeting May 12 to review the results of a survey completed by local businesses on how to address the panhandling issue, which has become an urgent matter as the city enters its busy summer tourist season.
Among the suggestions were stricter laws for panhandling and loitering, strategic placement of obstacles such as bistro tables and flower boxes to discourage sitting and lying on sidewalks. They also proposed launching a campaign discouraging tourists to give money to the pan handlers. A rudimentary effort is already in place with handwritten signs encouraging donations be made to charities that help the homeless rather than handing panhandlers’ money directly.
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