Cannabis legalization in U.S. leaving vulnerable groups out in the cold

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Even with U.S. states focused on bringing social justice to cannabis legalization, people from lower socioeconomic households are being left behind.

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has issued a memo informing the 20,000 federally subsidized households it oversees that they will not be able to use cannabis in their residences even after the drug becomes legal for recreational use in Illinois at the start of next year.

“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 memo states.

“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 Jan. 1, 2020.”

There are currently around 5 million residents in the U.S. who rely on federally funded public housing. One quarter of this group is disabled and 35 percent are elderly.

Some or even all would likely welcome the option of being able to consume a drug that many states have ruled to be safe for use, even if the federal government has not. Partaking in the rights that others enjoy now risks eviction for an already vulnerable group.

John Flickner, a 78-year-old New York resident, ended up in a homeless shelter after he was evicted for using medical marijuana in a federally subsidized facility even though he has a prescription to use the drug to treat chronic pain. Police chose not to charge him, but the assistant manager of the building evicted him anyway.

“It’s a vaporizer,” Flickner said, of the device that helps him relax and breathe more easily. “It’s got a battery and a cartridge fits in it. The oil’s in it. You don’t smoke it. There’s no odour to it,” he said.

“Just a minute or two after using it, it starts to take effect,” he added.

Illinois’ cannabis legislation is quick to tout the social equity programs it offers — including making it easier for people from disadvantaged areas to enter the industry — but until the federal government gets on the same page as numerous states, vulnerable groups could still be left on the outside looking in.

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