An area of medical marijuana policy that I often run into is housing. Sadly, I have never been a homeowner (or home payer as my math professor used to say). In fact, I moved an average of 1 time a year since I was a teenager. As a young adult, I would often set up a garden in a garage, basement, closet, shed, or spare bedroom of my rental property. Since I wasn’t a medical marijuana patient at the time, I didn’t think about state and federal housing policies and laws, especially as they related to marijuana. I considered myself a ninja, I knew the risks I was taking, and I proceeded to operate under the radar.
That all changed when I became a medical marijuana patient a handful of years ago. For the first time in my life, I had the ability to cultivate marijuana legally, so long as I was within my limits and no federal agents came to my house (which is not common in Oregon). At the time, I had the same question that I’m sure most MMJ patients have if they are renters; can my landlord kick me out, and/or call the cops on me for having medical marijuana growing and being consumed in my home? I always hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately, yes they can. There are steps you can take to prevent this from happening, but I must warn all medical marijuana patients out there, you should proceed with caution.
How in the hell can that be, you ask? It’s because almost any rental agreement contains a line that essentially states ‘the tenant agrees to follow all state AND federal laws’ while occupying the unit. Again, not EVERY rental agreement states this. However, every rental agreement that I have ever read DOES include that line, and from what I have researched, it seems to be an industry standard just about everywhere.
So if the landlord finds out that you are actively cultivating and/or consuming your medicine in the dwelling unit, it leaves you open to their wrath if they seek to pursue it. All they have to do is claim the ‘I’m just trying to follow federal law’ defense in court, and you are screwed. They can come after you for damages, which may or may not be stuff that you actually did! You have to imagine if you are standing in a courtroom trying to explain yourself in that situation, most judges are going to be unsympathetic and side with the landlord. It’s f’d I know, but that’s how the system works unfortunately.
One precautionary step that is recommended by Sensible Colorado is to amend the rental agreement or lease to omit the word ‘federal’ from the line I previously mentioned. If the line read more like ‘the tenant agrees to follow all (fill in the blank) state laws while occupying the unit’ it would protect the tenant to the fullest extent of state law. However, proposing such an amendment to the rental agreement or lease might raise some eyebrows, and result in you being turned down for the place. It doesn’t hurt to try though!
One thing that is almost guaranteed is if your landlord tries to call law enforcement on you, they will be requesting a city/county/state level patrol officer, and not a federal level officer. The state and local police are SUPPOSED TO BE FOLLOWING STATE LAW, which is the same law that allows you to be a medical marijuana patient in the first place. In theory, you should have no problems beyond cops walking around your spot to make sure you are within the limits. However, as I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, some cops are total assholes, and due to prosecutorial discretion, they can do whatever they want. Only after lawyer fees, blood, sweat, and tears are you returned to your original place if such an event were to happen. Moral of the story — BE A NINJA AND DON’T LET YOUR LANDLORD FIND OUT, MMJ CARD OR OTHERWISE! Of course, if you are a homeowner, or your landlord is OK with MMJ, you are lucky enough to not have to ever deal with any of this ridiculousness!
P.S. — Look for my follow up article ‘How to Survive a Landlord Walkthrough When You Grow Marijuana’