By Emma Ockerman
Sep 10, 2018
Cancer patients and other people with debilitating conditions are being forced to choose between medical marijuana and federal public housing assistance.
Even though some of the most conservative states are passing laws legalizing medical weed, marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance on a federal level, along with heroin and ecstasy, which can make users ineligible for programs like rental assistance or public housing.
Lily Fisher, a 55-year-old breast cancer survivor in Montana, learned that first-hand when she saw her application for a Section 8 rental assistance voucher rejected in August after revealing that she was using medical marijuana to treat her pain, according to the Billings Gazette. Section 8 is a federal program that subsidizes rent for low-income Americans.
In August, another woman seeking Section 8 assistance in Pennsylvania learned the same about the marijuana she uses to treat her back pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. And a third woman, in Arcata, California, was evicted from her federally-subsidized apartment in July after a maintenance worker spotted her legal stash of medicinal edibles, according to the local Times-Standard.
These women are facing homelessness due to the conflict between state and federal law on pot.
“From a civil rights perspective, you’re denying a whole class of people housing that have already been denied other aspects of living their life to the fullest potential because of the federal prohibition on cannabis,” said David Mangone, director of governmental affairs and counsel for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.
The majority of states now allow some form of medicinal marijuana. Americans overwhelmingly favor legalizing the drug for medical use. And in New York State — which hosts North America’s largest public housing population — medical marijuana is permitted to treat debilitating conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a memorandum in 2011 saying new admission applications revealing legal marijuana use would be denied, no matter the circumstance. However, the memorandum gave local landlords and public housing authorities the right to determine whether they should evict existing residents for medical marijuana use.