Despite Legalization, Cannabis Users Face Employment, Housing Discrimination

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One of the many hiccups involved in cannabis legalization is the legal discrimination against cannabis users in our society. This ongoing discrimination is an aftereffect of prohibition that lingers even where cannabis is now legal. A large portion of individuals who serve as employers by hiring workers or as landlords by offering rental units feel that they have every right to discriminate against cannabis consumers even as legalization moves forward in many places.

Landlords, for example, may openly prohibit smoking and cultivation on their premises, even if the potential or existing tenant in question has a medical license. Some may go so far as to ban vaporization as well as smoking, which made completely preclude cannabis users from considering that property. Both landlords and employers are likely to have negative opinions of applicants with a work history that includes cannabis companies, to say nothing of those with criminal backgrounds related to a cannabis offense.

Even as state policies legalize the possession and use of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, landlords and employers continue to discriminate against cannabis professionals and cannabis users across the country. This issue was recently brought to light by mainstream media attention on a 78-year-old man from New York. The gentleman in question, John Flickner, suffers from extreme back pain and relied on federal subsidization for housing costs.

Despite remaining in compliance with New York’s medical cannabis law and using what he claims is an odorless vaporization system, he ended up evicted from his housing as a result of his medical cannabis use. His landlord could have been compassionate and understanding, but instead they chose to evict a disabled, elderly adult over pain management choices.

Part of this issue stems from the fact that the federal government still has rules in place against cannabis. Anyone who receives state aid, especially for housing, can find that their cannabis use precludes them from receiving benefits or opens them up to other consequences. However, it is very possible for a similar story to unfold in private rental housing without a federal government subsidy. All the landlord would need to do would be to invoke a no-smoking clause or claim that the smell of cannabis damages the unit to successfully evict tenants, potentially while also keeping their security deposit.

In most cases, excluding wildly unmanaged cannabis grows that can cause humidity, mold, and water damage to rental units, cannabis has little impact on a property. Just cannabis use will not have any lingering negative effects on a property, other than an odor that will dissipate with fresh air or cleaning. Properly managed indoor cannabis gardens won’t likely cause damage either.

Even states that have liberal cannabis policies, like Colorado, still find frequent conflicts between employment laws, federal benefit laws, housing laws, and cannabis legalization laws. While landlords should have every right to protect their properties against unusual damage or excessive wear and tear and employers should have the right to protect their company from issues related to impaired job performance, neither of those concerns validates widespread discrimination against cannabis consumers.

People who use cannabis are, on a whole, responsible adults. Just as people can take narcotic pain medication and remain good employees and tenants or enjoy recreational alcohol and remain good employees and tenants, so too can cannabis users. As social attitudes toward cannabis use continue to evolve and change, it is very likely that laws in these gray areas will also begin to change.

Unfortunately, for true reform, changes must come from the federal level. Until our country reaches that point, cannabis users, both medical and recreational, will likely continue to face discrimination in employment and housing.


For previous Ladybud articles about discrimination, click here.



Photo Credit: Nick Youngson via Alpha Stock Images under CC BY-SA 3.0