Navigating the Confusing World of Medical Marijuana and Federal Housing

photo of a high rise apartment building with a blue sky behind it

While many states in America have legalized cannabis either medically or recreationally, the federal government still considers it an illegal drug. If you’re not well versed in marijuana laws, this can be very confusing when it comes to things like federal housing. Medical marijuana and federal housing pose an issue to the cannabis community. People who live in federal housing are technically breaking the law if they use cannabis in their home – even if they have a medical marijuana card or live in a state where marijuana is legal.

Why Medical Marijuana and Federal Housing Don’t Mix

For tenants and apartment managers alike, managing medical marijuana and federal housing can be complicated. If you live in federal housing, you can be lawfully evicted for using, growing, or distributing cannabis in or around your apartment building. Federal housing goes by federal laws, not state laws, so it doesn’t even matter if you have a medical marijuana card. According to federal law as of 2018, cannabis is still federally illegal and people living in federal housing will have to obey that law or risk eviction.

Understanding Medical Marijuana and Federal Housing Laws

Whether you’re a tenant or an apartment manager in a federal housing complex, it is important to be clear about the medical and recreational marijuana laws as of 2018. Here is a list of the key takeaways regarding medical marijuana and federal housing:

  • All forms of cannabis, including CBD products, are still illegal on the federal level and are classified as a Schedule I drug.
  • Landlords or apartment managers at a federal housing complex are legally allowed to ban the possession or cultivation of marijuana, and can actually get in trouble themselves if they do not.
  • Landlords or apartment managers at a federal housing complex can evict tenants for marijuana use, distribution, or cultivation.
  • For tenants with a medical marijuana card: Because a physician can only recommend marijuana, not prescribe it as a treatment, it does not fall under the category of “reasonable accommodation” even if you use it to treat a disability.

Why Some People Believe These Laws Are Discriminatory

In an article for Rolling Stone, journalist Amanda Chicago Lewis made a very bold and intelligent case as to why the cannabis laws in federal housing complexes are discriminatory towards poor, elderly, and minority peoples.

What Should You Do If You Use Medical Marijuana? image of an RX notepad with a pill bottle with marijuana buds falling out

If you, like so many other people, have experienced the incredible benefits of using marijuana, it can be really challenging to go back to using other forms of treatment. After all, we now know that medical marijuana works better for pain management than prescription opioids and helps people with serious conditions like epilepsy, depression, anxiety, and multiple sclerosis.

But, if you want to keep your federal housing, it’s definitely not worth losing your home when there are other options out there. You may instead consider ways to use medical marijuana without putting yourself at risk. For starters, you cannot be evicted from your home just for possessing a medical marijuana card. So, if you keep your card and just avoid using medical marijuana on site, you will not be at risk of eviction. For example, if you are able to, you could try using medical marijuana at a relative or friend’s home, or if you live in an area where cannabis is recreationally legal, you could just use it in vape bars or the equivalent.

These two options are not ideal if you have chronic pain and consistently need cannabis available to you, but it’s better than nothing. And while it’s never advisable to break the law, many cannabis companies do provide products with discretion in mind – such as THC capsules or edibles that can be kept in non-descript packaging.

If you’re considering using medical marijuana despite the federal housing laws, make sure you are incredibly careful. Unfortunately, marijuana use is not taken lightly in federal housing areas and people do not tend to get the same due process they would otherwise. Most of the time, the decision is just left up to the landlord, it’s not like you go to trial and make a case for yourself. Additionally, the smallest thing can get you kicked out of federal housing – if a repair person comes by and sees cannabis products in your home, they could report you and you could lose your housing just like that.

Applying For Federal Housing as a Medical Marijuana Patient

It’s important to note that if you are applying for federal housing, the only thing you have to worry about is a drug test. You can read about how long THC stays in your system, but just know that it depends on the mode of testing and your daily usage. If you are applying for federal housing, you should probably stop using cannabis until you get approved. When you complete the application, you do not have to disclose the fact that you have a medical marijuana card, and most places will not even ask (unless you go in to the application office smelling like cannabis). Also, keep in mind that having medical marijuana card will not show up on a background check but things like social media are still public. You definitely don’t want to post pictures of yourself using marijuana or being around it if you are living or applying to live in federal housing.

Confusing Laws and Hemp-Derived CBD 

white background with two small bottles, one labeled "THC" and one labeled "CBD," this photo is used to start the conversation about the confusing CBD laws

Even though the United States has made huge strides in cannabis legalization, the sad truth is that it is not legal for everyone. Even people who live in regular apartments and do not receive any financial assistance from the federal government are vulnerable. Any landlord can evict their tenants under the pretense that cannabis is federally illegal, especially if they state so in the original lease document. Only those who own property are truly safe from eviction.

So, if you love cannabis but have to use federal housing, is there anything you can do? Hemp-derived CBD might be a safer option. The cannabis plant is dioecious, which means it is bred as either only male or only female. The female plant is what produces THC rich buds that can be smoked or turned into concentrates and edibles. The male plant is often referred to as “hemp,” and it contains almost no THC or won’t get you high. Hemp is also what can be used to make everything from clothing to concrete.

And while it has almost no THC, it does contain CBDs, which have been shown to provide people with similar benefits to THC but without the psychoactive effects. Many drug tests will not come up positive for cannabis if you’re using hemp-derived CBD. CBD laws are confusing, but the substance is not technically legal. A 2014 bill said that if a grower follows specific rules, they can grow hemp legally. Some people believe this means CBD is legal to buy as long as it has less than .3 percent THC, but it’s not universally agreed upon. The laws are confusing and blurry, but it seems like it’s not legal to have CBD products in federal housing. If you’re going to take the risk, some of the benefits of hemp-derived CBDs are as follows:

Until cannabis is fully legal in the United States, people who get benefits from cannabis should continue to be loud and proud about it if they are able to. Those who can use cannabis freely should remember that not everyone gets to take advantage of new cannabis laws, so it’s important to keep speaking out and taking action against cannabis prohibition.