Housing agency: No aid for medical marijuana users

Patients prohibited from receiving vouchers, housing

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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New policies implemented by the Vancouver Housing Authority prohibit medical marijuana users from receiving federally subsidized housing choice vouchers and residing in low-rent public housing.

The VHA board of directors approved the policy change at its meeting April 27. Steve Towell, Vancouver Housing Authority’s community relations program manager, said the change just formalized the authority’s practice.

“To our knowledge, this formalized policy will not affect anyone currently living in housing,” Towell said. “For some time now, we have been letting people know that the use of medical marijuana is illegal in federally subsidized housing.”

While state law allows the use of medical marijuana in Washington and 13 other states, federal law still deems it an illegal substance.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development received numerous inquiries about whether medical marijuana use was allowed in federally funded housing in those states. In February, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, Sandra Henriquez, issued a memorandum to clear up the confusion.

“State laws that legalize medical marijuana directly conflict with the admission requirements set forth in (the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act) and are thus subject to federal pre-emption,” Henriquez wrote.

The memo also ordered public housing authorities in states where medical marijuana is legal to establish standards and lease provisions that prohibit admission into the programs if the person is using controlled substances, including medical marijuana.

In addition, Henriquez ordered those housing authorities to establish and adopt written policies regarding whether to allow continued occupancy for residents who are medical marijuana users or terminate their assistance.

The policy change adopted by the VHA board terminates assistance to residents using medical marijuana or any controlled substance.

“It would be inconsistent for VHA to adopt a policy to deny admission to, but allow continued participation by, medical marijuana users,” according to the resolution approved by the board.

The implemented policy changes affect housing choice vouchers and low-rent public housing.

Housing choice vouchers, or Section 8, gives participants federally subsidized vouchers to rent housing from private owners.

The low-rent public housing program offers reduced rent to those who qualify. Participants pay 30 percent of their income toward the rent of a housing authority-owned unit and federal funds cover the rest, Towell said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.