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In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. Recreational marijuana use becomes legal in Illinois starting in January, but it remains prohibited under federal law. In an effort to protect Chicago Housing Authority residents, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is asking the public housing agency to use discretion if residents are found using or possessing marijuana.

Richard Vogel

Mayor Lightfoot Seeks Discretion For CHA Residents Using Pot

So that public housing residents aren’t evicted, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is advising the Chicago Housing Authority to bring clarity around the impending conflict between state and federal laws on the use of recreational marijuana.

While recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois starting in January, it remains prohibited under federal law.

Earlier this month, CHA put out a strongly-worded notice to public housing residents and Section 8 voucher holders informing them that marijuana use won’t be allowed in its properties even after recreational use becomes legal in Illinois. CHA told residents a violation means termination of housing, if the tenant, another household member or a guest is found using or in possession of marijuana. The notice also said the agency doesn’t require a conviction or an arrest to proceed with termination. CHA said that federal law supersedes state law. The CHA ban also applies to the use of marijuana for medical purposes, which has been legal in Illinois since 2013.

WBEZ obtained a letter Lighfoot wrote to James Bebley, acting CEO of CHA. “While federal law prohibits marijuana use or possession on CHA property, it gives CHA latitude and discretion in how it handles applicants and residents who are found to be using or possessing marijuana,” Lightfoot wrote in the letter. “CHA’s policies demonstrate that discretion, but CHA’s communications to residents should be updated to also reflect that discretion, and the legalization of recreational marijuana statewide. Specifically, I urge CHA to provide guidance that clearly explains its policies, mindful of residents’ significant interest in remaining in CHA housing.”

The letter went on to urge robust CHA engagement with residents and for the public housing agency to use discretion on a “case-by-case basis” related to circumstances around disabilities and the effect of evictions on families.

CHA gave a statement to WBEZ that said: “CHA is committed to ensuring that all residents, voucher holders and applicants for CHA housing understand that CHA has discretion when it comes to handling the use of cannabis and will address matters related to cannabis on a case by case basis.”

The CHA said, in the coming days, it will work with residents to educate them in efforts to legally exercise their rights regarding the state’s new cannabis law.

Activist JR Fleming was pleased with Lightfoot’s communication. He called the original CHA notice a slap in the face. Some criticized the CHA because its original stance called for the punishment of individuals receiving federal housing subsidies for using marijuana even though their market-rate neighbors in mixed-income communities could do the same without penalty

“This is a fight no one needs to have. We were ready for a fight,” said Fleming, who is on the city’s cannabis task force. “You’re not going to say that one sector of people can do something and the other sector can’t.”

The tension between the federal prohibition of recreational marijuana and state laws allowing its usage is playing out around the country. Last week, the U.S. Housing Judiciary Committee voted to remove the marijuana plant from the federal Controlled Substances Act. If passed, the measure would resolve that tension and not just for housing. The banking industry, which is regulated by the federal government, is not allowed to do business with marijuana companies due to the federal prohibition. Marijuana use has been legalized for medical or recreational use in all but 17 states in the U.S.

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