Mental Health

Vote Yes on Cannabis Recreational Sales To Deliver Vital Mental Health Resources to Colorado Springs Residents

Compared to other states, Colorado’s efforts to help its citizens cope with mental health issues has long fared poorly. It has one of the nation’s highest rates of adult mental illness, and the lowest access to care, according to the annual Mental Health in America Report. Children’s Hospital Colorado ranks the state 48th in the nation for addressing pediatric mental health. The state’s suicide rate in 2019, of 22.1 per 100,000 people, approaches twice the national average of 13.1.

Last year, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared that children’s mental health in the state is in a “state of emergency,” in the wake of COVID-wrought mental health challenges.

Matters are even worse in Colorado Springs. On the juvenile front alone, the data is alarming. Consider: In 2020, for example, the suicide rate in El Paso County among youths (ages 10 to 18) rose by 54%, compared to a 13% increase statewide. In addition, between January and April of last year behavioral health emergency department visits across Children’s Hospital systems in the state rose 72%. But in Colorado Springs, the increase spiked by 145%, compared to the first four months of 2020.

Mental health care is vital for veterans, and 55,000 vets call Colorado Springs home. Unfortunately, Colorado’s 2019 veteran suicide rate of 43.1 suicides per 100,000 veterans is significantly higher than the national average of 31.6 suicides per 100,000 veterans, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As financial pressures, housing scarcity and lack of access to mental healthcare continue to plague Colorado Springs, the mental health crisis is not likely to drift away. It will take much more than talk to help the city’s many people who struggle with mental health issues. Financial resources will be paramount.

This is one reason to support a ballot initiative that finally will let Colorado Springs residents decide for themselves whether the city will permit the sale of recreational cannabis. The group Your Choice Colorado Springs crafted the referendum, and is seeking signatures now to place it on the November ballot. 

Colorado Springs today loses a minimum of $15 million annually to neighboring communities as a result of our city leaders’ prohibition on recreational cannabis sales. Bear in mind, it is completely legal to consume recreational marijuana in Colorado Springs. Residents are simply not allowed to purchase their recreational cannabis in Colorado Springs. 

As a result, dollars spent by Colorado Springs residents that could otherwise be directed toward mental health programs helping struggling family, friends, and colleagues are sent to neighboring communities that profit from demand from Colorado Springs. There’s no way around it — Colorado Springs residents who purchase recreational marijuana have no choice but to bolster the financial security and well-being of other municipalities, rather than taking care of their own hometown.

If Colorado Springs residents vote to allow recreational sales of cannabis, and thus repatriate recreational cannabis sales taxes back to the city, expanded mental health services across the city will stand as a major beneficiary. Tax dollars from sales of recreational marijuana will be earmarked to strengthen and expand mental health services and programming in Colorado Springs. Additionally, a citizens’ oversight committee will oversee the collection and disbursement of recreational cannabis sales taxes, ensuring that tax revenues go exactly where citizens intended them to go — toward mental health programs.

The city of Colorado Springs supports a wide range of organizations and services that help people suffering from mental health challenges. They all struggle with funding, as mental health issues continue to mount. Funds generated from recreational cannabis sales will head to many of these organizations and services, giving mental health professionals the tools they need to ease mental distress among Colorado Springs residents.

Mental health professionals in Colorado Springs and globally are desperate for resources, as the COVID-19 pandemic strained mental health services worldwide to the breaking point. According to a 2021 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) mental health services around the world “were already over-stretched before 2020. The scale of mental distress since the start of the pandemic requires unprecedented levels of mental health support if it is not to lead to permanent scarring.”

Further, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), found that incidences of anxiety and depression rose by 25% during 2020, an enormous increase, and one attributed to COVID.

In Colorado, Vincent Atchity, CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health Colorado, told 5280 Magazine: “Since [March 2020], the number of people exhibiting signs of stress and anxiety has gone through the roof.” In the same 5280 article, Dr. Jason Williams, a pediatric psychologist and director of operations at Children’s Hospital of Colorado, said: “I don’t think it has hit shore yet. There are going to be major trailing mental health effects in our society” due to COVID-19.”

Colorado Springs is a vibrant, compassionate city with new people from around the country arriving every day to put down stakes and call it home. As the city and the country struggle with so many new challenges, many of them essentially ripples of COVID — scarce housing, inflation and mental health struggles, for example — now is the time to allow the sale of recreational cannabis in Colorado Springs. 

Should Colorado Springs citizens first sign the petition that places the referendum on the November ballot, and then vote to allow recreational sales of cannabis, the city finally will gain access to the financial resources it needs to take care of the mental health and well-being of its 465,000 residents.