The Maine State Housing Authority has agreed to let tenants in subsidized housing continue using and growing medical marijuana at home for another six months ”“ and hopefully, permanently.

The agency announced earlier this month that it would no longer allow people who use rental assistance to possess, use or cultivate medical marijuana in apartments where rent and utilities are federally subsidized under the program known as Section 8, according to a prepared statement from the authority, dated Oct. 3.

The statement went on to say, “MaineHousing recently became aware of a few Section 8 voucher holders who use, possess or cultivate medical marijuana in their Section 8 units. These tenants have been notified about the new policy and given the opportunity to comply with it. ”¦ Federal law prohibits illegal controlled substances such as marijuana in Section 8-subsidized housing units. In regards to medical marijuana use, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the federal HCV program, does not allow public housing authorities such as MaineHousing to admit a medical marijuana user into the program.

“The federal agency does allow public housing authorities in states with medical marijuana laws to set their own policy to address current Section 8 voucher holders who are certified to use medical marijuana.”

Following the announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and state Rep. Deborah Sanderson asked the Maine Housing board to reverse its decision to ask them to patients to stop legally using medical marijuana or risk eviction.

Alysia Melnick, an attorney for the ACLU of Maine, argued that the change is discrimination and pointed out that although possession and use of marijuana is illegal under federal law, the U.S. government has indicated it will not prosecute medical marijuana patients who are in compliance with state drug laws.

She said despite receiving loan assistance from the federal government, MaineHousing may legally allow existing patients to stay in their homes.

Melnick is right. Just because the board is concerned does not mean they should start evicting tenants or revoking their vouchers. Maine voters approved the use of medical marijuana in this state, and, by its own admission, MaineHousing stated it could set its own policies regarding the issue.

People now have the right to access marijuana if their doctor deems its use appropriate. And it shouldn’t matter if those people live in apartments, condos, homes or any form of subsidized housing. Many people have prescriptions for drugs that are often abused ”“ like oxycodone, vicodin and other painkillers. MaineHousing is not proposing to kick those people out of their homes, despite the fact that Maine has one of the highest prescriptions drug abuse rates in the country. Not to mention that legal prescription drug users have been targeted in home invasions so criminals may obtain their prescriptions.

The MaineHousing board also said they considered the “additional, non-housing-related responsibilities” that could be placed on their employees who become aware of a Section 8 voucher holder using marijuana. This should not be an issue, however ”“ it sounds much more like an excuse.

People who are entitled to use or grow medical marijuana should have proper documentation from the state to do so. If a MaineHousing employee ”“ or anyone for that matter ”“ believes someone is illegally using marijuana, local authorities should be contacted to look into complaints, and either verify a person’s eligibility as a medical marijuana user or bring charges to those using the substance illegally.

The MaineHousing board voted to place a 180-day moratorium on its new policy banning medical marijuana use, but we hope when the time comes, they will reconsider and allow medical marijuana users equal access to subsidized housing.

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Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Robyn Burnham representing the majority opinion of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].