Federal Marijuana Laws Lack Compassion
The headline about a couple in New Hampshire facing eviction from their small apartment for drug possession – a violation of their lease – shows the complexity of our drug laws when it comes to medical marijuana. Disabled Lebanon Couple Get Eviction Notice After Marijuana Bust tells the story of how this couple has been caught between their personal needs, the laws of their state and the Federal government’s stand on marijuana. He has multiple sclerosis and she is on disability from a traumatic brain injury. Both of them find marijuana helps with their pain and he gets small amounts for free from some people he knows through local sources who grow it for medical use.
New Hampshire adopted laws permitting medical marijuana in 2013 but it took the state three years to fully implement them. Medical marijuana dispensaries have slowly opened in the state, including in this particular town just last month, but for this couple the law was no help and he could not get medical marijuana due to an unfortunate twist in the law. To get medical marijuana in New Hampshire you must have a permanent home and he unfortunately lost his apartment and his permanent address in a fire in February. Since that time he has lived with his friend, they have been a couple for 20 years, waiting to get his own apartment in the federally subsidized housing unit where she lives.
The management group of this complex was aware he had moved in and all was good. That was until an anonymous source called the local drug hot line and turned in the couple for their use of marijuana. The three policemen who came to their door looking for drugs were given their small amount of marijuana, which was estimated as less than half an ounce, an amount that even under New Hampshire’s drug laws would be a misdemeanor.
At this point you are thinking – ok, they get a slap on the hand and all is good, right? No, this is where the story takes a bad turn and illustrates the perils of our current approach toward medical marijuana.
Because this drug offense took place in a federally subsidized housing complex, the federal laws about drugs applies – this is a zero tolerance policy and the couple has been given their eviction notice that they must vacate the apartment. They have no place to move to, considering they both need the subsidized assistance, it is reasonable to presume they will have a difficult time finding another place they can afford on their limited income that isn’t in some way connected to federal funds.
I have written before about the hazards of medical marijuana because of the complexity of our laws as they are right now. If you receive any type of federal assistance and you are caught possessing marijuana, such as this couple, you could lose it all. This could include Medicare and Medicaid benefits. Veteran’s assistance comes through federal funds and VA services could be terminated. Even bank accounts can be seized because they are governed by federal law and not by the states.
Some recent good news is the US House has just passed the Veteran’s Equal Access Amendment, which would allow veterans who live in states with legalized marijuana to use it without fear of losing their veteran’s benefits. This amends a bill that prohibited VA doctors from prescribing medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The bill is not yet finalized but is a step in the right direction. The bad news is not all states fit this legal requirement. An index of states that have adopted medical marijuana laws can be found on the NORML website.
Oddly, just the day before I read this news brief, I had read a story about Rhonda O’Donnell, woman with MS in Rhode Island who had successfully championed medical marijuana laws and had an official proclamation given to her by her state government in honor of her efforts. She is recognized as an extraordinary citizen while this other couple are now branded as law breakers. That’s how much of a mixed message we are getting these days.
Stories such as what this couple is facing because they found an effective way to treat their pain with marijuana are a prime example of why our federal laws are long overdue to be revised to reflect contemporary views, uses and needs. It also serves as a cautionary tale to members of the MS community who find relief through the use of marijuana to understand the risks they might face while trying to manage their pain and other MS related symptoms. Don’t find yourself caught between the laws because as of now there are no provisions for compassionate use.
Wishing you well,