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Despite the fact that more and more states are legalizing recreational and medicinal use of cannabis, residents living in federal public housing projects or using federal housing vouchers face punishments and possible evictions for exercising their right to legally use cannabis. Aside from use restrictions, typically, public housing rules and regulations also prohibit any sort of home cultivation of cannabis. This needs to change and change quickly. This unfairly punishes some of the most vulnerable in our society, fails to alleviate the victimization of persons and communities that have been disproportionately affected by anti-cannabis laws and prevents public housing residents from participating in the cannabis marketplace, which might actually allow them to achieve self-sustainability.

This is true all across the country and even here in New York. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and city-located federal housing officials have yet to act on proposals to soften penalties and mandate the use of enforcement discretion to allow and encourage home cultivation by NYCHA residents. This needs to change and change quickly.

In this respect, Chicago is doing a better job than New York City. Illinois recently rectified its persecution of cannabis use by legalizing reasonable recreational use and allowing home cultivation. But there was a misstep on the path to social equity when, in November 2020, the Chicago Housing Authority sent out a notice to residents stating that marijuana use would still be prohibited and might still result in evictions and other punishments.

However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot intervened and now the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has issued a new policy that will — through thoughtful use of enforcement discretion — allow public housing residents to participate in home cultivation and in the cannabis marketplace. Now the CHA will take the following factors into account when reviewing cannabis-related issues as possible lease violations:

  • Disability status
  • Time time, nature and extent of the cannabis-related conduct
  • Other conduct within context
  • How lease termination will affect an entire family
  • Overall impact of cannabis-related activity
  • And more

These are the kinds of changes that must begin immediately here in New York City. It is worrying that NYCHA officials seem unaware and unconcerned about these legal, political and equity issues. Legalization of cannabis use was — and is — crucially important for communities that have been disproportionately stigmatized and victimized by anti-cannabis laws. But the home is where the heart is, as the saying goes. If home cultivation and participation in the cannabis marketplace is allowed for those living in private homes and apartments, then the same should be true for those living in public-run homes and apartments. Everyone should have the equal protection of the laws especially those that are living in public housing projects and in Section 8 housing. If New York allows cannabis use and home cultivation, why are NYCHA residents treated like second-class citizens? Residents of public housing deserve respect and deserve clarity.

Find Out More From a New York State Cannabis Attorney 

For more information, contact Special Advisor and Strategic Consultant for The Mary Jane Consulting Group, Michelle Fields Esq. With more than 17 years of litigation experience and a focus on New York Cannabis Law, with a special commitment to Empowerment, Equity, and Equality. You can read more about these issues here and contact me at 718-400-6143.