Marijuana legalization in Illinois won’t apply to people living In public housing

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Once again, a major failing in the current model of state-by-state marijuana legalization has been exposed. In Chicago, the public housing agency has released a memo clarifying that residents may not partake in the state’s soon-to-be-legal cannabis industry in the comfort of their homes.

Chicago Housing Authority, which is the third largest agency of its kind in the country with over 20,000 households in its system, had this to say in a communication sent to housing voucher recipients:

“While federal law prohibits marijuana use and possession in federally subsidized housing, the CHA is working to educate and inform residents so they understand all applicable laws related to cannabis and federally-funded housing. The CHA will work with the City of Chicago as it develops rules and regulations in accordance with existing state and federal laws in order to ensure a safe and responsible implementation of legalized cannabis in Chicago on January 1, 2020.”

The memo was a reminder of an issue that has plagued many of the five million public housing residents across the country, of whom one quarter are disabled and 35 percent are elderly. Since many such programs are federally funded, federal law applies to the properties. That means residents can be evicted for consuming state-legal cannabis, even if they have been approved as medical marijuana patients.

Residents Face Evictions

Such regulations can be disastrous, particularly for public housing residents whose age or health condition leave them with limited mobility, and echoes similar restrictions on residents of federally subsidized nursing homes. In upstate New York, an elderly man was evicted from his public housing after authorities discovered he had been taking medicinal marijuana for his chronic pain condition. 78-year-old John Flickner wound up in a homeless shelter, even though he has a New York medical cannabis card.

A similar incident took place in California’s Humboldt County, where a woman and her teenage daughter were evicted after a maintenance worker discovered a small bag of the woman’s medicinal marijuana in their apartment. That woman’s lawsuit against the federal government over the matter was dismissed by a judge this summer.

The issue has not gone unchallenged in Washington, D.C. U.S. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the latest bill that would permit medical marijuana use in public housing this spring. She presented a similar proposal during the last session that did not make it out of committee.

“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,” Norton commented upon bringing up the legislation earlier this year.

Illinois will become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana on January 1, after Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the legislation into effect in June. It is estimated that cannabis sales could pull $250 million in tax revenue by 2022.

The legislation has a special focus on social equity programs, and will prioritize business applications from entrepreneurs hailing from communities negatively affected by the War on Drugs as well as facilitate the expungement of thousands of past cannabis-related crimes.

This summer, the state’s medical cannabis program also underwent an expansion that added 11 new qualifying conditions for patients and guaranteed the permanent status of the system, among other changes.

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