BREWER, Maine — The Brewer Housing Authority board discussed medical marijuana use by tenants on Monday afternoon and decided to see what other housing authorities across the state are doing before making any decisions locally.
“My question is this: Even though there are a number of states who have approved this, it’s still a federal law that you cannot use it,” board member Allen Campbell said. “My concern is how can we go against federal law.”
Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1999, and in November 2009 resoundingly supported expanding the law to include more medical conditions and the creation of nonprofit, government-sanctioned clinics and marijuana cultivation centers.
Registered patients who suffer from certain ailments, such as cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, are allowed to possess up to 2½ ounces of the drug and to grow up to six plants.
So far, the state has issued 982 registration cards for qualified medical marijuana patients who received recommendations from their doctors to use the drug, according to an April story in the Portland Press Herald.
The Brewer Housing Authority’s policies about controlled substances are pretty straightforward, Executive Director Gordon Stitham told the board.
“If you get caught with drugs you are going to get evicted,” he said. “We don’t allow marijuana as a prescription drug.”
Commissioner Tom McGary countered by saying, “Marijuana is a prescription drug.”
He added that residents are allowed to use other painkillers, and said, “If you do have a prescription, why is it any different?”
City Solicitor Joel Dearborn suggested at last month’s housing authority meeting that the panel consider creating a policy regarding medical marijuana use and Stitham contacted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to get an opinion.
A Feb. 10 memorandum from Sandra Henriquez, HUD assistant secretary, states that “based on federal law, new admission of medical marijuana users are prohibited” into public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.
She goes on to say federal laws trump state laws, but added that local housing authorities “have discretion to determine continued occupancy policies that are most appropriate for their local communities.”
Fourteen states in the U.S., Maine included, have legalized medical marijuana use, her memo states.
“PHAs in states that have enacted laws legalizing the use of medical marijuana must therefore establish a standard and adopt written policy regarding whether or not to allow continued occupancy or assistance for residents who are medical marijuana users,” Henriquez wrote. She said whether qualified patients would be allowed to live in public housing is a decision that must be made locally.
Chairman Albert Gibson, who described the HUD letter as “interesting,” suggested that Stitham find out what housing authorities in Bangor, Portland and other communities are doing. The panel agreed.
“I would like to get some feedback,” Campbell said.