When states began to legalize medical marijuana in the late nineties, various legal issues were sure to result from the discrepancy between state and federal laws. One example is federally subsidized housing.

On February 10, 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a memorandum to its field offices and to public housing agencies about the issue of state-legal medical marijuana use in federally subsidized housing. The memo states that “new admissions of medical marijuana users are prohibited,” meaning that HUD is not to help anyone who uses medical marijuana find federally subsidized housing. Moreover, “State laws that legalize medical marijuana directly conflict with admission requirements…and are thus subject to federal preemption.” Under federal law, landlords can evict federally subsidized tenants for illegal drug use, and marijuana is an illegal drug in the eyes of the federal government. The HUD memo makes it clear that state-legal medical marijuana users may be prevented from gaining federally subsidized housing and may be evicted if they already live in federally subsidized housing.

HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8 housing, allows U.S. citizens and some eligible noncitizens to live in privately owned apartments. Under the program, residents receive a voucher to help pay the rent. The criteria for eligibility depends on many factors, including the number of children in the family in question, the amount of the family’s income, and the median income of the area. As part of the application for Section 8 vouchers, the housing authority collects information on the family’s income and assets, among other things, and checks the application data against other sources.

The Case of Emma Nation

According to a recent article in the Eureka Times-Standard, Emma Nation, a medical marijuana patient who resides in Arcata, California, lost her court case in which she sought not to be evicted (along with her daughter) from her federally subsidized apartment. Federal law prohibits marijuana use in federally assisted housing. (On a related note, a complete ban on smoking in public housing took effect on July 31. This ban has been promulgated as a way to protect residents from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.)

But while smoking anything is now banned in public housing, the issue that has made Nation and her daughter homeless remains. A person with a state-legal recommendation for marijuana who uses it (in some other way than smoking) in federally subsidized housing risks being evicted, which for many people of limited means can result in homelessness.

A solution to this issue has been proposed in Congress. As stated in a press release issued on April 20, “Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton…announced that she will both introduce a bill and file an amendment to the House fiscal year 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill to permit the use of medical marijuana in states where it is legal in federally-assisted housing, including public housing and the Section 8 housing program.”

Norton said: “Individuals living in federally funded public housing who are prescribed legal, medical marijuana should not fear eviction for simply treating their medical conditions. Our legislation should attract bipartisan support because it also protects states’ rights. Over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana. Congress needs to catch up with its own constituents and protect individuals who live where medical marijuana is legal, but who still have no way to use it because they live in federally funded housing.”

What do you think? Does Norton’s bill have a chance? How far away is federal legalization? Leave a comment below.

About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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