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Colorado Voters Will Decide if Marijuana Will Fund Mental Health Care

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In Eagle County the voters will decide whether to pay for some expanded mental health programs with a marijuana tax. The county commissioners unanimously voted to have the question posed on this November’s ballot. If voters support the effort, a small local and excise tax would be added to retail marijuana sales.

Some project that up to $1.2-million in revenue would be spent on mental health programs, according to Park Record. The director of human services in Eagle County, Chris Lindley, says that mental health and behavioral health issues are now an epidemic. Over the last three years, Vail Health has seen more cases of mental illness.

Greg Daly, police chief in Avon, said, “I call this a courageous step for filling this void, this vacuum for mental health in our community. It’s a huge step in sustainability…for people who need hope in their lives.”

Lindley said, “If we were talking about sexually transmitted diseases or the flue, we’d be calling those numbers an epidemic.”

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said that a lot of those with mental illness end up in jail because there’s not another place for them.

Van Beek said, “Last year at this time, 70-percent of the jail inmates were on some kind of medication. I still have people in my facility who should not be here. That is not the place for them.”

According to van Beek, a mental health facility in Eagle County would put 20 to 25-percent fewer people behind bars. Roughly half of those incarcerated experience a mental health professional for the first time when going to jail.

Daly and van Beek agree that law enforcement doesn’t like marijuana.

Daly said, “We’re the tip of the spear. We deal with those calls. When we’re dealing with people under those circumstances, they should be treated as patients, not pseudo-suspects.”

If voters approve the additional tax, programs would be funded to help treat mental and behavioral health issues. Buildings would not be built to house these programs. Mind Springs would run the operation while Mountain Family Health would fund the building separately.

Eagle County does not have a separate marijuana tax. The funds it does receive comes from the state’s 10-percent sales tax along with its 15-percent excise tax. In 2016, marijuana sales topped $1.3-billion and generated almost $200-million in excise tax revenue statewide.

Eagle County did spend money on a poll that was conducted by Magellan Strategies. It cost the county $14,000. The findings, however, were promising as 78-percent of the 400 perspective voters would support the tax.