AUGUSTA, Maine — A lack of federal guidance on the use of medical marijuana in federally subsidized apartments led the Maine State Housing Authority board of commissioners on Tuesday to delay a decision on the issue for up to another year.

Commissioners and MaineHousing Director John Gallagher expressed deep frustration that despite repeated attempts to secure guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the past year, none has been given.

“We’ve asked for feedback by letter, email and directly to [HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan],” Gallagher told the board Tuesday morning in Augusta. “None is forthcoming. We’re still waiting for a response.”

At issue is whether to allow legal medical marijuana consumers who already receive housing vouchers through MaineHousing to use or cultivate marijuana in their homes under a law passed in Maine in 1999. The board voted in August 2012 to terminate vouchers for medical marijuana users, but then instituted two consecutive six-month moratoriums after protests from medical marijuana advocates. The second of those moratoriums would have expired next month if the board hadn’t extended it for another year on Tuesday.

According to Denise Lord, MaineHousing’s director of housing choice vouchers, there are approximately 3,800 Mainers receiving vouchers in the program, approximately 14 of whom are known medical marijuana patients. There also are approximately 30 local housing authorities that also are grappling with Maine law, which allows medical marijuana, and federal law, which doesn’t.

Most of those agencies, including MaineHousing, which administers the voucher program for municipalities that don’t have their own housing authorities, deny applicants who disclose in their applications that they use medical marijuana, according to Lord. The moratorium is relevant only to voucher recipients who became medical marijuana patients after receiving their vouchers.

There was some disagreement among MaineHousing’s commissioners about whether to vote for the moratorium or take a stand one way or the other about medical marijuana patients in subsidized housing. Some argued that issues about whether tenants can smoke or grow marijuana should be between the tenant and his or her landlord, though others said that by not instituting a policy that’s in line with federal law, MaineHousing is condoning medical marijuana use and possibly putting its federal funding at risk.

“What risk or liability does the authority have if something bad happens as the result of medical marijuana growth?” asked Commissioner John Turner. “We’re allowing this to happen and I’m very uncomfortable with that.”

Commissioner Donald Capoldo Jr. suggested that the legal ramifications of ending a voucher for someone who is in compliance with state law could be worse.

“In the state of Maine they’re not breaking the law,” he said. “I’m going to vote the way the state of Maine has voted. … The bottom line is that the people of Maine have spoken and I support the people of Maine. If the federal government doesn’t want to give us some guidelines then I’m going to vote with the state.”

State Treasurer Neria Douglass, who serves on the board, said that with so many uncertainties, the only feasible decision for the board was to keep a moratorium in place.

“I don’t think there’s a good argument for doing anything other than having a moratorium,” she said.

The majority of commissioners agreed with her and voted 5-2 to extend the moratorium.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.