A congresswoman is asking the federal government to stop kicking people out of public housing for using marijuana in states where it is legal.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Tuesday sent a letter to the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), imploring her to use “executive discretion” to not enforce policies that prohibit cannabis use in federally assisted housing in states that have enacted legalization.
The congresswoman wrote to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge two weeks after filing legislation that would legislatively accomplish the same objective.
“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or face eviction, for using a legal product,” the congresswoman wrote. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”
“The federal government has begun to change its approach to marijuana,” Norton said, adding that Congress has consistently included language in appropriations legislation in recent years that prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical cannabis laws.
“HUD, like DOJ, should not enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” she said. “Smoking marijuana in federally assisted housing should be treated in the same manner as smoking tobacco in federally assisted housing.”
No one should be denied admission to or face eviction from housing simply for treating their medical conditions or using a substance legal under state law.
— Eleanor #DCStatehood Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) May 25, 2021
The letter includes a request for a response from fudge, who previously served in Congress, by June 21.
Norton’s related bill would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
The legislation would also require the HUD secretary to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.
Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Read the congresswoman’s letter on HUD marijuana policies in full below:
Dear Secretary Fudge:
I request that you use executive discretion to not enforce rules against marijuana use and possession in federally assisted housing, including public housing and Section 8 housing, in compliance with the marijuana laws of the state where the property is located.
Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or face eviction, for using a legal product. Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana. The users of drugs that are illegal under federal law, including marijuana, are prohibited from being admitted into federally assisted housing. Moreover, federal law allows landlords to evict residents of federally assisted housing for drug use.
The federal government has begun to change its approach to marijuana. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, which is derived from marijuana. Epidiolex is used to treat children who suffer from seizures. For the last several years, Congress has prohibited the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using federal funds to prohibit jurisdictions from implementing their medical marijuana laws. HUD, like DOJ, should not enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana.
Smoking marijuana in federally assisted housing should be treated in the same manner as smoking tobacco in federally assisted housing.
I ask that you respond in writing by June 21, 2021.
Eleanor Holmes Norton