Illinois’s ban on cannabis in public housing raises question of who really benefits from legalization

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Illinois residents over the age of 21 will enjoy the right to spark up legally when the ball drops on Jan. 1, 2020, but not everyone is likely to be in the partying mood.

But the same freedom will not extend to legal cannabis consumption, leading some to wonder for whom exactly the drug is being legalized. Residents of public housing will be banned from consuming in their units, whether for medical or adult-use purposes.

David Northern, CEO of the Housing Authority of Champaign County, told Fox that the decision in Illinois was rendered for a multitude of reasons, including “insurance costs, fires because of smoking inside the units.”

Residents can face serious consequences — including eviction — if they are busted smoking cannabis, or anything else for that matter, in any kind of public housing.

“If you receive a number of lease violations, you can be terminated,” Northern said. “We would hate to terminate an individual for smoking, but again, we have to protect the individuals that need protecting, those individuals with disabilities along with our property.”

But that protection does not seem to extend to residents who have disabilities and consume cannabis for medical purposes, such as treating chemotherapy-related nausea, anorexia, chronic pain or seizures. These patients, many of whom have limited mobility as a result of their illnesses, will have to leave home to consume their physician-prescribed medication (if they can find a place to consume at all), thus impeding their access to medical treatment.

Protection does not seem to extend to residents who have disabilities and consume cannabis for medical purposes

Illinois will ban public consumption come legalization day, and smoking will be limited to private residences and, perhaps, some dispensaries, although that has yet to be determined. That means that if a resident can’t smoke at home, he or she may not be able to smoke at all.

Many critics say that a ban on cannabis consumption in public housing effectively re-criminalizes the drug for individuals in lower economic brackets.

Similar issues have arisen in come Canadian provinces, where landlords have banned cannabis cultivation and/or consumption. This effectively leaves pot smokers who aren’t also property owners quite literally out in the cold, if their province allows public consumption at all.

Whether legalized north or south of the border, those who have been disproportionately affected by criminalization of cannabis will no longer be persecuted. However, absent home ownership, legalization can leave disadvantaged groups being further marginalized and stigmatized.

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