Last week, after long campaigns by a handful of courageous Section 8 residents, legislators introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would permit the use of cannabis for such residents in parts of the country where it is already legal for either medical or recreational purposes.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia —who will not be able to actually vote for her own legislation. (The representative for Washington, D.C. can introduce bills but not vote.) Washington, D.C.’s CBS affiliate WUSA reports that Norton named the bill the “Sondra Battle Cannabis Fair Use Act” after Sondra Battle, a D.C. resident who lives in Section 8 housing and is prescribed cannabis to treat her fibromyalgia. Battle actually co-signed the bill with Norton in a show of her support.
“Residents like Sondra should not fear eviction from federally-assisted housing simply for using cannabis to treat their medical conditions,” Norton said in a press release. “Our bill recognized today’s realities and proven needs. Individuals who live in states where medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal, but live in federally-assisted housing, should have the same access to treatment as their neighbors.”
Under current regulations, residents of federally assisted housing are barred from using cannabis even for medical purposes. Norton’s bill would make it illegal for a person to be denied such housing for the use of cannabis in jurisdictions where it has been legalized — whether under a medical marijuana regime or a general legalization such as has now been embraced in nine states plus the District of Columbia.
Section 8 housing was created by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1978. Through the Housing Choice Voucher program, citizens are provided assistance to low or moderate-income families to rent housing on the private market. The program works as a rental subsidy, allowing families to pay a “reasonable” amount of their income on rent. As the New York City Housing Authority website explains, this is generally taken to mean no more than 40 percent of a family’s adjusted monthly income. Local public housing agencies issue vouchers to the families to cover a portion of their rent. The vouchers are underwritten by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Portland Mercury notes under the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA), landlords participating in the Section 8 program are required to adopt leases that allow them to evict “anyone found to be in possession of an illegal substance.” The QHWRA was passed in 1998 as a supposed reform aimed at “Reducing the concentration of poverty in public housing,” according to the HUD website.
EstroHaze, a website and media company focused on “multicultural women in the cannabis industry,” provides a profile of Uneeda Nichols, another one of the key activists who has taken on this issue in the District of Columbia. Nichols is devoting her energies to the “Bring It Home” initiative, a project of the D.C. cannabis activist network DCMJ. This campaign seeks to protect medical marijuana patients receiving federal housing assistance. Nichols is herself on a wait-list for Section 8 assistance, and is an open cannabis user.
In her comments to EstroHaze, Nichols emphasized that there should be a right to personal cultivation for Section 8 residents as well.
“If grandmothers and seniors in the HUD programs wanna grow their own cannabis — just like fruits and vegetables — we want them to have that right,” she said. “Many of these people can’t afford to go to a dispensary. The prices are too high. With a home grow, they would have it immediately available to them so they don’t have to rely on pharmaceutical drugs. We want to allow more people to use natural remedies for their pain, or for whatever reason. And we don’t believe it’s right to make people homeless because they need marijuana.”
Nichols’ Bring it Home campaign has been sending out flyers and memos to activists across the country, calling upon them to visit their local HUD offices and protest on the issue. On April 2, Bring It Home kicked off the campaign with a rally outside the HUD building in Washington, where Nichols and her fellow activists handed out free cannabis.
TELL US, do you think Section 8 housing residents have a right to use cannabis?