Biden Admin Insists Public Housing Residents Can’t Use Cannabis, Even For Medical Purposes

Cannabis users still aren’t welcome in public housing, according to the Biden administration.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says it will keep denying federally-assisted public housing to those who use weed, whether or not they reside in a state that has legalized the plant.

Earlier this year, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting delegate to Congress, sent a letter to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge requesting that she stop enforcing anti-cannabis rules against Section 8 and public housing residents “in compliance” with local weed laws.

But Norton’s request appears to have fallen on deaf ears. In a response, HUD said it would keep enforcing policies that allow the “termination of the tenancy of any household” for cannabis use — even for state-approved medical purposes.

“As you know, consistent with federal law, HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana,” said the letter, which was published by Norton’s office on Tuesday.

The agency said it was powerless to stop enforcing federal housing laws on cannabis, passing the buck to Congress. “Absent a change in federal law, HUD does not have the discretion to admit users of marijuana, including medical marijuana, to the Public Housing program.” However, it noted that public housing authorities and Section 8 landlords have the discretion to decide “when it is appropriate to terminate the tenancy of the household,” citing a 2015 memo.

In a press release, Norton, an ardent supporter of legalization, said she was “very-disappointed” by HUD’s decision to double down on the cannabis ban. In May, she introduced the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act (H.R. 3212), a bill that would amend federal housing laws to prevent HUD and other U.S. agencies from denying housing to cannabis users.

Current federal laws prohibit anyone living in public housing from using controlled substances, and allow landlords to evict anyone who breaks those laws. Those stringent regulations have taken a toll on some vulnerable cannabis users. In 2018, a Navy veteran and domestic violence survivor from Pennsylvania was denied Section 8 housing after disclosing that she used state-legal medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and PTSD, per a report from USA Today.

Norton’s bill would also require HUD enact rules that treat cannabis use in public housing “in the same manner” as tobacco use. As of now, using tobacco isn’t allowed anywhere inside public housing facilities, including in living units, hallways and community centers, as well as outdoors within 25 feet of a building.

In D.C., more than 7,000 low-income families live in public housing, and more than 90% of those residents are Black, according to a 2020 report by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Center. The D.C. Housing Authority says it hasn’t thrown out any public housing resident for cannabis use since the passage of Initiative 71, which legalized the possession, use and home cultivation of recreational weed in the District. Still, some public housing residents say they face discrimination for cannabis use nonetheless.

As a growing number of states move to legalize cannabis, the gap between federal and state laws on weed use is getting harder to bridge. Though Virginia legalized recreational cannabis earlier this year, local public housing authorities say they’ll continue to follow federal laws prohibiting residents from using the drug. More than 217,800 Virginians live in federally assisted households, per the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.

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