Underlining the role that economic class plays in one’s experience of the cannabis legalization movement, Maine resident Olanian Jackson saw his eviction upheld by the state’s Supreme Court after his landlord discovered that Jackson was using state-legal medical marijuana in his home.
The court’s decision highlights the fact that for anyone who lives in federally subsidized housing, the progress that has been made in state-by-state cannabis legalization in the US is simply not enough to ensure one’s safety. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has made it clear that recipients of Section 8 vouchers, or anyone who lives in public housing can be evicted or denied a home based on marijuana usage, regardless of state and local laws.
The injustice led Rolling Stone to ask “If you can’t legally use cannabis in your own home, is weed really legal for you?” in an article profiling Washington DC resident and fibromyalgia patient Sondra Battle. Battle was shocked when her apartment manager posted a notice informing residents that they would be evicted with no appeal should they be found using marijuana, regardless of whether they had a doctor’s recommendation.
In Jackson’s case, the Supreme Court was able to avoid addressing the conflict in state and federal laws by focusing on the related criteria for his eviction. As reported by Bangor Daily News, these included “intimidating behavior, denying access to his apartment, and illegally installing a lock”.
The feds say that the weed alone was grounds for him to be shut out of his home in the Fairfield Family Apartments. A 2014 HUD memo states that “Regardless of the purpose for which legalized under state law, the use of marijuana in any form is illegal under the [Controlled Substances Act] and therefore is an illegal controlled substance.”
The memo also states that landlords are required to deny federally assisted housing to applicants known to be using federally banned substances, and must “establish policies which allow the termination of tenancy of any household with a member who is illegally using marijuana.”
Last year, Washington DC member of Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act, which would have made it legal for residents to consume cannabis in federal housing located in states and districts which allowed for their usage. The bill went nowhere.
In the United States, over five million people live in federally subsidized housing. In large part due to the country’s history of racist redlining bank policies that curtail housing choices, half of them are people of color. Anti-cannabis policies in federal housing is yet another area in which the malignant War on Drugs falls on the shoulder of communities of color.
And in what should be seen as a severe handicap to existing medical marijuana laws (present in 33 states), of the five million people, one quarter are disabled and 35 percent are elderly.
There have been several high profile cases of marijuana-based eviction. In California’s Humboldt County, Emma Nation was evicted from her publicly subsidized housing when a maintenance worker reported seeing cannabis in her apartment to her landlord. In September, the Billings Gazette told the story of Montana breast cancer survivor Lily Fisher, who was denied Section 8 vouchers after detailing her medical marijuana usage on a screening questionnaire.