MAINE: Some medical marijuana patients may have to choose between their cannabis and their federally subsidized housing if a state moratorium is not renewed before its Oct. 1 deadline.
While state housing officials say it’s unlikely the deadline will pass without action, the prospect is still unnerving to those who may be affected.
“I’ll have to go back on my pain medications and anti-depressants. I’m in no position to move again. I’m 61 years old,” said Brooks resident and medical marijuana patient Joan, who asked that her last name not be used. “My life had no quality [before I started using cannabis]. I was in a daze with all the pain medications and antidepressants.”
The moratorium allows grandfathered medical marijuana patients to use, possess and grow cannabis while in federally subsidized housing properties. If it is not extended before it sunsets next Tuesday, those patients will have to stop taking the drug in Section 8 housing or have their federal rent subsidies cut off.
The Maine State Housing Authority board of commissioners is scheduled to consider another yearlong extension at its meeting Tuesday morning in Augusta, authority spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said Monday.
Turcotte said only 12 of the approximately 3,850 state Section 8 housing voucher receivers in Maine would be affected by a moratorium lapse if it happens.
The board initially approved a policy disallowing all medical marijuana use, possession or cultivation at properties that are part of MaineHousing’s Housing Choice Voucher Program in September 2012. But a month after approving the measure, the board doubled back and approved a six-month moratorium on implementing it with hopes of hearing back from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on whether allowing use of the drug would jeopardize the state’s qualification for federal aid.
The moratorium was extended for another six months while state housing authority officials continued waiting for guidance from HUD, and Turcotte said the board still has yet to hear back from the federal agency.
Use of medical marijuana was legalized in Maine in 1999 and larger-scale dispensaries were legalized in 2009, but the drug has yet to be legalized at a federal level, putting programs and agencies that straddle the two jurisdictions in awkward positions in terms of compliance.
That was the spot MaineHousing found itself in during the fall of 2012, when it initially decided to err on the side of caution by prohibiting the marijuana in units funded by the federal Section 8 program.
The new policy affected grandfathered cannabis patients, who were already in federally subsidized housing when they were granted licenses for medical marijuana. New applicants for Section 8 housing at the state level have not been allowed to possess the drug.
“Our board decided that persons with prescriptions could not use, possess or cultivate marijuana in our buildings, because it’s still illegal at the federal level and we did not want to jeopardize our status within those federal programs,” Turcotte told the Bangor Daily News Monday.
Turcotte said HUD officials have stated that state agencies like MaineHousing can adopt their own guidelines, but she said the state board wants clearer standards from the federal agency on how much flexibility Maine officials will have in setting those guidelines as they pertain to marijuana.