Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) are reintroducing a bill to allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.
As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. The bicameral legislation—titled the “Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act”—would change that.
It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
Norton has filed similar versions of the proposal over recent sessions, but the reform has yet to be enacted. This appears to be the first time Booker is championing a Senate companion. The latest bill is similar to what’s been previously introduced, with mostly technical changes to the language.
“This legislation challenges the discriminatory practices that still negatively impact tenants in federal housing programs, and ensures that personal choices made in accordance with state law are protected,” Booker said in a press release on Thursday. “No one should face eviction or be denied housing for legally using marijuana or treating a medical condition in states where it is permitted.”
The bill would further require the head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.
“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission or fear eviction simply for treating their medical conditions or using a substance legal under state law,” Norton said. “Increasingly, Americans are changing their views on marijuana, and it is time that Congress caught up with its own constituents. With so many states improving their laws, this issue should have broad bipartisan appeal.”
The bill’s path forward is an open question. With competing legislative priorities in the second half of the 118th Congress, advocates and stakeholders have largely focused on a cannabis banking bill that cleared a Senate committee last year.
In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.
Norton sent a letter to HUD in 2021 that implored the department to use executive discretion and not punish people over cannabis in legal states. In response, the President Joe Biden’s HUD secretary told the congresswoman that it is statutorily required to continue denying federally assisted housing to people who use marijuana, even if they’re acting in compliance with state law.
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill in 2020 that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
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