Medical Marijuana — A COMBAT Series Part 3
State Laws Legalizing Medical Marijuana Clash
With Policies For Federally-Subsidized Housing
MONDAY, JULY 15, 2019
U.S. Attorney General William Barr voiced support in April for a bipartisan bill that would protect states with legalized marijuana from federal intervention. But, thus far, Congress has approved no such bill for President Donald Trump to possibly sign into law.
Therefore, the official federal position on marijuana remains the same as it has since 1970, when then Attorney General John Mitchell, serving under President Richard Nixon, classified marijuana a Schedule 1 drug—the same designation for heroin and other dangerous narcotics.
'Should Be Left Up To The States'
Barr’s immediate predecessor as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced in January 2018 an end to the policy President Barrack Obama put in place prohibiting federal authorities from interfering with marijuana sales in the states that have legalized the drug. Ten months later, Missourians passed State Constitutional Amendment 2 legalizing medical marijuana.
Barr’s recent statements would seem to represent a softening of the U.S. Department of Justice’s stance toward marijuana since Session’s resignation last fall. President Trump has said the drug’s legalization “should be left up to the states.”
Their words notwithstanding, rigid federal regulations and laws remain in place over the states that have approved medical marijuana’s use. For example, most marijuana dispensary operators can’t bank their proceeds due to federal banking policies. They, therefore, operate primarily on a cash-only basis.
Meanwhile, those legally using—under state law—medical marijuana may risk eviction if they are living in federally-subsidized housing, due to provisions in the U.S. Code’s Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the “Quality Housing & Work Responsibly Act” (QHWRA) of 1998.
Medical Marijuana Use Still Illegal Federally
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued two official memorandums—one dated 2011, the other 2014—spelling out its position on people using medical marijuana while living in federal “assisted housing.” Both documents cite the QHWRA, which, according to the 2014 HUD memo denies admission to federally-subsidized housing to “any household with a member… illegally using a controlled substance” as defined by the CSA.
As a Schedule 1 drug, marijuana is considered an “illegal controlled substance” in the CSA federal code, regardless of whether or not state laws permit its use for medical purposes.
The HUD policy for people already living in federal-assisted housing is more muddled. The 2011 memo requires Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) to “establish occupancy standards and lease provisions that will allow the PHA to terminate assistance for use of a controlled substance.” In other words, these agencies are to have provisions in place to evict current residents using a controlled substance.
But within the same memo, HUD includes what one might consider an out: “The law does not compel such action and PHAs have discretion to determine continued occupancy polices that are most appropriate for their local communities.”
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ALSO IMPORTANT TO KNOW
» The VA & Marijuana—What Veterans Need To Know
Veterans are not denied VA benefits due to marijuana use, but VA clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana. VA pharmacies do not fill medical marijuana prescriptions, and the VA will not pay to have them filled elsewhere.
» The FDA & Marijuana
The Federal Drug Administration has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for treating any condition.
» DEA Wants More Marijuana Grown For Research
"The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) isn't exactly known as big fan of marijuana. But... the anti-drug agency is moving to more than quintuple the amount of cannabis that can legally be grown in the U.S. for research purposes—from roughly 1,000 pounds in 2018 to more than 5,400 pounds next year." (Forbes • Aug. 16, 2018)
This Is ‘Confusing’
Terri Powell-Rands calls HUD’s medical marijuana use policies “confusing.” She is the Senior Vice President of Regional Operations for the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH). Advocating that “affordable, safe and healthy housing is a right,” POAH operates more than 10,000 affordable housing properties in 11 states, among them the Hawthorne Place Apartments in Independence.
“POAH is the private owner/operator of these federally-subsidized housing properties,” said Powell-Rands, who works in the non-profit developer’s Kansas City office. “HUD has different policies for our type of federal housing, compared to the PHAs, which run the older federal public housing projects.
“That means for our properties like Hawthorne we have to abide by the federal policy that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, an illegal controlled substance, and strictly prohibited. In our properties and most federally-subsidized housing medical marijuana use is not allowed.”
The 2014 HUD memorandum made no references to Public Housing Agencies. It bluntly stated owners of assisted housing properties “must establish policies which allow the termination of tenancy of any house with a member who is illegally using marijuana or whose use interferes with the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents.” But in the very next sentence, HUD points out “QHWRA affords owners the discretion to evict or not evict current tenants for their use of marijuana.” (The emphasis on “discretion” is in the original HUD document.)
No Action Taken On ‘Parity’ Legislation
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton believes HUD policies—and federal statutes—need updating.
Only 15 states and the District of Columbia had approved medical marijuana when HUD issued its 2011 memo. That number had swelled to 23 states as 2014 drew to close. In 2018 Missouri and Utah became the 32nd and 33rd states legalizing medical marijuana use.
Though she’s a non-voting member of the House of Representatives—she represents the District of Columbia—Norton can still introduce legislation. No action has been taken on the “Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act Of 2019” since Norton officially introduced it in the House on April 18.
Norton’s bill would end any confusion about HUD policies as it would “provide that an individual who uses marijuana in compliance with State law may not be denied occupancy of federally assisted housing.”
In a news release, Norton said, ““Individuals living in federally funded housing should not fear eviction simply for treating their medical conditions or for seeking a substance legal in their state. Increasingly, Americans are changing their views on marijuana, state by state, and it is time Congress caught up with its own constituents.”
Norton’s bill would require HUD to establish regulations that restrict smoking marijuana on the grounds of these federally-subsidized properties—regulations similar, if not identical, to those already prohibiting smoking tobacco. Similar legislation that Norton introduced last year received neither a hearing nor a vote.
What About A Drug Treatment Facilty?
Bobbie Jo Reed has reviewed research about marijuana’s medical benefits. “It can help people who suffer from certain conditions,” she said.
But what if those people also have a drug addiction condition?
Reed believes permitting medical marijuana’s use in a facility providing inpatient addiction care or ongoing recovery treatment would almost certainly prove detrimental. She founded Healing House, Inc. in Kansas City’s historic Northeast neighborhood 16 years ago to provide safe home environments for men and women exiting inpatient programs and seeking to make their recoveries long-term as they reenter the world outside a treatment center.
Healing House, Inc. acquires and then remodels vacant homes—many of them former drug houses—for use as transitional housing by individuals in the early stages of their recovery journeys. The organization has served more than 4,000 people and currently has transitional housing available for up to 169 adults and 25 children in the Northeast.
“Medical marijuana is a huge concern for those of us who are providing housing for people with substance use disorders,” said Reeds, herself a recovering alcoholic and addict. “We would not be comfortable with people smoking medical marijuana in our facilities due to other participants for whom marijuana is their substance use disorder.”
A Treatment Option?
Some physicians, however, have proposed using medical marijuana to help opioid addicts cope with the pain and withdrawal.
At the same time, many alcoholism and drug addiction counselors advise their patients against using any mind-altering or potentially addictive substances. Exposure to medical marijuana, they insist, could trigger a relapse in any person in recovery, regardless of whether or not their previous drug of choice was cannabis.
Anne Lewis, clinical psychologist and licensed addictions counselor with Indiana University, stressed marijuana use can “lower your inhibition, so you don’t care,” causing a person struggling with addiction to possibly seek out his or her primary drug and possibly resume drinking. (U.S. News & World Report • Nov. 16, 2016)
More Research Needed
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a bulletin five years ago this month about “potential risks associated with marijuana use in patients being treated for opioid use disorders.” SAMHSA warned that “initial evidence indicates [marijuana use] increases the probability that patients will engage in activities that put them at a higher risk of relapse to opioid use.”
The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIH) has called for more research to be conducted on medical marijuana and whether it helps or harms people with an opioid use disorder. Studies that have thus far been conducted, according to NIH, have had “mixed” results.
NOTE: COMBAT funds two Healing House treatment programs.