Marijuana Use in Public Housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program

On November 6, voters in Michigan legalized the use of recreational marijuana and voters in Utah and Missouri legalized the use of medical marijuana. Although these states, among numerous others, have voted to legalize the use of marijuana to some degree, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) continues to list marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug that is banned at the federal level. This means that the federal government considers marijuana a “substance with a very high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in the United States.”

Currently, HUD has not released any guidance specifically related to the use of recreational marijuana in public housing or Section 8 properties. That said, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) of 1998 requires PHAs to prohibit admission to the Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs based on the illegal use of federally controlled substances. This includes both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. QHWRA also requires PHAs to have established occupancy standards and lease provisions that allow the PHA to terminate assistance if a resident is using a controlled substance as defined by the CSA.

A HUD memo from 2011 notes that although new admissions of medical marijuana users are prohibited into the Public Housing and Section 8 program, PHAs have the “discretion to determine, on a case-by-case basis, the appropriateness of program termination of existing residents for the use of medical marijuana.”

Furthermore, although the Instituting Smoke-Free Public Housing Final Rule makes no mention of marijuana (it only refers to lit tobacco products), the rule does give PHAs the flexibility to prohibit other lit products in their smoke-free policies. As such, PHAs could include marijuana in their smoke-free policies if they choose, in order to provide additional clarity to residents.

Although there is still no specific HUD guidance relating to the use of legal recreational marijuana at the state level, marijuana is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level. PHAs should continue following their established occupancy standards and lease provisions as written until additional HUD guidance is released.

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