Medical Marijuana Patients Forced To Choose Between Housing Or Pain Relief

By Victoria Kim 09/12/18

The government's stance on medical marijuana is leaving some low-income patients in a major bind. 

Real estate agent holding house model and keys

Some medical marijuana patients across the country are having to choose between having a place to live or effective pain relief.

People who apply for, or already receive, federal housing assistance may face discrimination if they use cannabis—even if it is for medical use, even if it is legal in their state.

That’s because the federal government’s stance has not changed along with the policies of individual states, the majority of whom have legalized cannabis in some form. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says federal housing policy will continue to prohibit cannabis use until the federal government officially changes its stance on it.

Currently cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, in the same category as heroin and LSD. Drugs in this category are defined as having no medical value and a high potential for abuse.

Lily Fisher, 55, is a medical cannabis patient under Montana’s medical cannabis program. Fisher, who has a prosthetic foot as a result of developing blood clots while being treated for breast cancer, relies on cannabis for pain relief.

Fisher previously tried both hydromorphone and oxycodone for her pain, but ultimately preferred cannabis over taking opioids because it gave her fewer side effects.

While applying for federal housing assistance, Fisher learned that her status as a medical marijuana patient would disqualify her from the process.

In August, she was notified that she had been removed from the Section 8 waiting list because the state “recently received information from our field office that [she had] engaged in illegal use of a drug.” She would have to reapply.

“It never even crossed my mind in a million years that that would be an issue,” she said, according to the Billings Gazette. “I started getting shook up and nervous because I’m about to be homeless.”

Another woman, 66-year-old Mary Cease of Pennsylvania, was also denied access to a Section 8 housing voucher. Cease is a disabled veteran who also prefers cannabis over opioids. “It’s a crazy thing to do to an old woman who has no criminal background, and who owes nobody anything, and is living in a place where you cannot expand your mind,” she said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In June, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a representative from Washington, D.C., introduced a bill that would allow the use of cannabis in federally subsidized housing in states where it is legal. “Individuals who live in states where medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal, but live in federally-assisted housing, should have the same access to treatment as their neighbors,” Norton said.

If such legislation should pass, it would represent a huge victory for medical marijuana patients who fear discrimination in not just public housing, but in the workplace too.

“No one should have to choose between staying off opioids and a roof over their head,” said Mary Cease’s lawyer, Judith Cassel.

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