Pubdate: Sun, 12 Aug 2012
Source: Albany Democrat-Herald (OR)
Copyright: 2012 Lee Enterprises
Author: Kyle Odegard


Public Housing Caught Between State, Fed Laws

Thelma Brady of Sweet Home said it wasn't hard for anybody to realize 
that one of her rental houses had a marijuana grow.

Depending on the day, a person walking down the street could get hit 
in the face with the plant's pungent odor.

But Brady already knew about the grow, and essentially had approved it.

The tenant who lives there has a medical marijuana card issued by the 
state of Oregon.

"I made him post it by his front door, so if the police came, there 
it was," she said.

More than 54,000 people are registered with the Oregon Medical 
Marijuana Program, according to July 2012 figures.

But cardholders don't necessarily have the right to smoke, grow or 
even possess marijuana in rental residences.

Whether you do or not depends on the landlord or the public housing provider.

Which law to follow?

Landlords and public housing providers can find themselves in an 
awkward position, caught in the gray area between state law and the 
federal government's antidrug stance.

Medical marijuana is legal in Oregon, except in the eyes of the 
federal government.

Last month, the Linn Benton Rental Housing Association discussed the 
dilemma during its regular meeting.

Guest speaker Violet Wilson, an executive board member of the Salem 
Rental Housing Association, told about 20 attendees that they could 
turn down applicants with medical marijuana cards.

She also warned landlords that many people with cards will grow more 
than their limit and distribute marijuana to recreational drug users.

Landlords have conflicting views on the issue.

Property owner Malcolm Rose of Corvallis said he'd always prohibit 
marijuana use of any sort at his units. He said drug use attracts 
undesirables and lowers property values.

Brady manages 200 units in the Sweet Home area, and some are 
Linn-Benton Housing Authority clients with federally funded rent 
vouchers. She has four tenants with medical marijuana cards.

Brady said that if she doesn't know up front that her tenants have 
medical marijuana cards, "they're gone" if she catches them growing 
the plant or using the drug.

She said she doesn't allow grows in her apartments and keeps a close 
eye on those in houses.

"If you have somebody with a medical marijuana card, you have to do 
your job," Brady said.

That includes checking for mildew at grow sites and counting plants 
to make sure cardholders don't exceed the legal limit of six plants 
and 18 seedlings.

Property manager Carl Carpenter said he prohibits marijuana grows in 
his apartment units, specifically because of the mildew that stems 
from the moist environment the plant prefers. Tenants also have been 
known to alter electrical systems for grow lights and other 
equipment, creating fire hazards.

But Carpenter said he also manages rural houses outside of Corvallis 
that he's designated as grow-friendly.

"They have to follow all the mandates," Carpenter said.

Don't ask, don't tell

The Linn-Benton Housing Authority administers federal HUD vouchers 
for 2,400 families in the mid-Willamette Valley.

And the agency has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding the 
issue of current clients legally growing or possessing marijuana with 
medical marijuana cards, said interim director Donna Holt.

"If there's never an illegal drug law broken, we don't ask if they 
don't tell," Holt said.

"It's a controversial issue because we run a federal program. The 
feds see it (marijuana) as illegal. It's been a nightmare for housing 

The agency's families average $400 a month in housing vouchers, and 
they choose where to rent.

The Linn-Benton Housing Authority reports illegal activity it 
suspects from any of its families, and people arrested for drug 
crimes lose their housing benefits and face eviction.

The authority also owns 75 units, and as the manager, it prohibits 
smoking of any sort.

New clients for those units are told that they can't grow or possess 
marijuana - even if they have medical cards - said Jennifer Sanders, 
chief programs officer for the Linn-Benton Housing Authority.

Holt said housing authority employees suspect some families with 
vouchers are legally growing marijuana. Those clients, like Brady's 
grower, sometimes have cards displayed prominently, to make sure they 
aren't reported or police don't get the wrong impression if they show 
up at the door and smell marijuana.

Other clients are more cautious, and though they have cards, they try 
to conceal obvious signs of marijuana growing, possession or use, Holt said.

There's another reason for concealing medical marijuana use: 
Cardholders can find themselves the victim of burglaries where 
culprits steal their stash or plants, Brady said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom