Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has again filed a bill to promote affordable housing in the U.S. that includes a provision preventing landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
The language is identical to a section included in a version of the legislation the senator introduced last Congress that did not advance.
Under the measure, filed late last month, there’s a list of “just causes for eviction” such as failure to pay rent or causing significant damage to a property. The “manufacture of a cannabinoid extract” is another cause for eviction, “unless the tenant holds a license to manufacture the cannabinoid extract under Federal, State, or Tribal law.”
It should be noted, however, that the bill lacks any specific protections for other state-legal cannabis activities, including simple possession.
Just above the manufacturing provision is language stating that “the unlawful manufacture, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance” is grounds for eviction, though it contains no caveat exempting state-legal activity as cause for eviction.
Despite the growing number of states moving to allow cannabis for medical or recreational use, it remains “unlawful” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
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While advocates would likely applaud the inclusion of state-legal protection language, it’s also the case that eviction proceedings are handled at the state level, and so some courts would presumably defer to state law when it comes to cannabis-related eviction cases.
Also, when it comes to the manufacturing provision, states generally do not provide licenses that would specifically allow individuals to produce marijuana extracts in their residences, so it’s unclear how impactful that policy would be in practice if enacted into law.
Of course, the cannabis provision is just one notable part of a comprehensive housing bill, which aims to “address the shortcomings of our current housing policies and funding levels by holistically addressing disparities and systematic obstacles and ensuring an equitable outcome for the most vulnerable Americans.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) rolled out a different kind of housing reform bill in 2019 that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
More recently, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sent a letter to the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in May, 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.
Norton’s 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.
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.