Editorial: Medical marijuana use should not impact housing assistance decisions

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Individuals applying for Section 8 housing can be denied on the basis of medical marijuana usage.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

A resident of Indiana County was recently denied Section 8 housing due to her status as a user of medical marijuana.

The resident — Mary Cease — is attempting to appeal this decision to a judge in the Commonwealth Court, arguing that her use of medical marijuana should not be an influencing factor in determining eligibility for housing. The fact that an individual can be denied housing when they would otherwise be eligible is ridiculous, and the use of medical marijuana should not be considered when determining if a person qualifies for Section 8 housing. 

The Section 8 Housing Program is “a federally funded government assistance program” that provides housing to low-income families and individuals who might otherwise be unable to afford their rent. The main factor in determining eligibility for the program is gross annual income. Typically, an individual with an annual income around $15,000 — considered an “extremely low income” — would be eligible for Section 8 housing.

Based on this, Cease would be eligible for Section 8 housing — she estimates that her annual income is less than $10,000. Despite her incredibly low income, her appeal for housing was denied due to her use of medical marijuana — prescribed by a physician for chronic back pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cease is legally permitted by the state of Pennsylvania to utilize marijuana for her medical issues. She volunteered this information freely on her application for housing assistance, worried that she may be required to move if she withheld the information and it was later discovered. Instead, she has now been denied the housing assistance that she is reliant on. 

Part of the problem with denying Section 8 housing based on the use of medical marijuana is the fact that medical marijuana is classified in the same federal category — Schedule I — as more addictive drugs such as LSD and heroin. But this classification in itself is deeply problematic. Doctors argue that weed is not considered highly addictive or dangerous — with the exception of adolescents who smoke the drug while their brain is forming. And with a prescription especially, it shouldn’t pose issues for people with an otherwise clean record looking for housing. Cease passed all of her other background checks, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This is a damaging classification as medical marijuana is safely regulated by state governments — Pennsylvania residents must be confirmed as having a “serious medical condition” in order to obtain access to medical marijuana. The controlled methods of access to the drug makes it safer than other drugs in its federal schedule, meaning that it should not be a disqualifying factor in the application for Section 8 housing.

Medical marijuana is a preferable alternative to many other prescription opioids. Cease’s alternative to medical marijuana would be to take a different painkiller, which she stated could be “addictive and have all these side effects.”

Simply put, medical marijuana should not be a consideration when determining a person’s eligibility for housing assistance. 

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