Must You Permit Medical Marijuana Use as Reasonable Accommodation?

December 19, 2014
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In early December, the federal court in Michigan ruled a federally assisted housing community was not required to allow use of medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation under fair housing law.

In early 2013, the resident signed a lease for a townhome in a project-based, Section 8, federally assisted housing community operated by a property management company. The lease documents indicated that the management company “may” terminate the agreement for several reasons, including drug-related activity or criminal activity.

The resident had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and received Social Security disability benefits due to her condition. Her doctor prescribed medical marijuana to alleviate her symptoms, and she obtained a state-issued medical marijuana card.

A few months after she moved in, the management company initiated eviction proceedings in state court, but the resident argued that she was entitled to a reasonable accommodation to use medical marijuana at the community. 

The management company turned to the federal court, seeking a declaration that the resident was not entitled to a reasonable accommodation under federal fair housing law to use medical marijuana in her unit at the Section 8 federally assisted community.

Siding with the management company, the court ruled that the resident was not entitled to a reasonable accommodation for medical marijuana use under federal fair housing law. Although state law permitted use of medical marijuana, it was trumped by federal law, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug with no medically acceptable uses. 

Fair housing law does not require federally assisted communities to grant reasonable accommodations of medical marijuana use, because doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their housing program. Requiring the community to grant the reasonable accommodation to use marijuana would require the community to violate federal law. Such a requirement would fundamentally alter the nature of its operations by thwarting its mission to provide drug-free federally assisted housing.

Moreover, the resident wasn’t entitled to a reasonable accommodation under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The law bans discrimination against individuals with disabilities, but not when it’s based on current use of illegal drugs.

Nevertheless, the court declined to rule that the resident’s use of medical marijuana was cause to evict her--or order her to stop using marijuana at the property, saying it was up to the state courts to decide [Forest City Residential Management Inc. v. Beasley, Dec. 3, 2014].