The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says it is required to continue denying federally assisted housing to people who use marijuana, even if they’re acting in compliance with state law.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sent a letter to HUD Sec. Marcia Fudge in May, imploring the department to use executive discretion and not punish people over cannabis in legal states.
The department’s response letter, which Norton released on November 9, says that, “consistent with federal law, HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana.”
It cited the relevant statute and reiterated that the department must “prohibit admission to HUD rental assistance programs based on the illegal use of controlled substances, including state legalized medical marijuana.”
Here’s the statute that HUD referred to:
“(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a public housing agency or an owner of federally assisted housing, as determined by the Secretary, shall establish standards that prohibit admission to the program or admission to federally assisted housing for any household with a member—
(A) who the public housing agency or owner determines is illegally using a controlled substance.”
“Absent a change in federal law, HUD does not have the discretion to admit users of marijuana, including medical marijuana, to the Public Housing program,” the letter states.
Norton said in a press release that she’s “very disappointed in HUD’s decision to refuse to protect residents in federally assisted housings who use marijuana in compliance with their state and local laws.”
“Americans are continually evolving on the issue of marijuana use, with rapidly increasing in support,” the congresswoman said. “This response shows even more why Congress should enact my bill that would permit marijuana use in federally assisted housing in compliance with state law.”
“It is a travesty that the Biden administration would prioritize process over people.”
The department also referenced a 2014 memo that it issued on the subject that similarly defers to the statute. But advocates say it’s disappointing to see HUD continue to rely on seven-year-old guidance, as numerous states have moved to legalize cannabis for medical or adult use in the years since.
“It is a travesty that the Biden administration would prioritize process over people when it comes to a fundamental need such as housing for those who consume cannabis,” said Justin Strekal, political director of NORML. “With millions and millions of registered medical marijuana patients around the country, disproportionally among them veterans, action must be taken to respect the dignity of our fellow citizens.”
HUD did suggest, however, that property managers have some discretion when it comes to people who have already been admitted to federally assisted housing and who are later found to use cannabis.
While they must set policies “allowing” for the termination of housing for people who are found to be using controlled substances, the law “provides discretion to [public housing authorities] and owners to determine, on a case-by-case basis, when it is appropriate to terminate the tenancy of the household.”
That’s not the type of explicit protection that Norton and others are seeking, however. HUD’s response may spur lawmakers to take up the congresswoman’s standalone bill on the issue, which was filed in May this session.
The legislation stipulates that “an individual may not be denied occupancy of federally assisted housing on the basis of using marijuana in compliance with state law, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development may not prohibit or discourage the use of marijuana in federally assisted housing if such use is in compliance with state law.”
Earlier this year, Norton attempted to get the reform enacted as amendments to large-scale spending legislation, but they did not make it into the final bill.
The congresswoman filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
On a related note, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) filed a bill in July that’s meant to promote affordable housing in the US and also includes a provision preventing landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Photograph of public housing in Albany, New York by Paul Sableman via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0
This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.