Longmont resident Ashley Weber learned on Thursday that she won’t lose her home because she uses medical marijuana to treat pain and spasticity she suffers as a quadriplegic.
“I was very, very happy to hear (the news),” said Weber, 29, who rents a single-family home in southwest Longmont. “Right now, I’m thankful to the (Longmont) Housing Authority because they did amend the policy.”
Under the new policy, Longmont Housing Authority officials will look at individual cases regarding both medical and recreational marijuana, said Michael Reis, executive director of the Longmont Housing Authority.
Previously, the agency employed a zero-tolerance policy.
“We tried to find some middle ground. We’re treating it like alcohol,” Reis said.
On Dec. 7, 2012 — 10 years to the day after the car accident that broke her neck — the Longmont Housing Authority informed Weber that she would lose her housing assistance because she uses medical marijuana edibles, a violation of federal law and the federal Housing and Urban Development agency’s policies.
“I wanted to climb in to the deepest, darkest hole,” Weber said Thursday. She had no idea what she was going to do, where she and her now-4-year-old son, Colin, would live.
The Housing Authority learned of her medical marijuana use because she had listed the cost as an expense. Clients pay 30 percent of their adjusted income, while the Housing Authority pays the rest with federal funds. Prescription medication can be deducted from one’s income, but controled substances under federal law cannot be, Reis said.
Weber didn’t resign herself to losing her home, though.
“I really thought that I was going to fight it. I wanted to fight it. I thought it wasn’t right,” she said.
And after the Boulder Weekly told her story, she had a strong advocate: Boulder attorney Jeffrey Gard, who has been involved with medical marijuana issues for years.
The situation reminded him of why he became a lawyer and of cases he handled when he was young and idealistic, he said. He wanted to help people. He wanted to help Weber.
“She would be homeless or she would be placed in an institutional setting” and unable to care for Colin, Gard said. He contacted Weber and offered to help her for free.
Gard flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with Helen Kanovsky, HUD’s attorney, he said. Kanovsky told him that under its official policy, HUD could not allow disabled clients to use medical marijuana while federal law deems it to be illegal. However, her office would let local housing authorities, such as Longmont’s, decide if clients should be evicted or lose their housing benefits because they use medical marijuana, Gard said.
Gard then met with officials from the Longmont Housing Authority. Almost a year later, the case has been resolved without any lawsuits being filed.
“Everybody, particularly the Housing Authority, wanted to find a solution,” Gard said.
The policy, as Gard described it in a released statement, focuses on whether a client’s marijuana use “is abusive or may interfere with the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment by the other residents.”
The zero-tolerance policy had been in effect since 2003, Reis said.
“It was long overdue to have some adjustments,” he said, adding that a review of the administrative plan started before Weber’s case began. “Clearly, we’re operating in a new era.”
Under the new guidelines, Reis said, three situations can trigger a review of the client’s status: a violation of the tenant-landlord agreement; failing in-home health-and-safety inspections; and law-enforcement activity.
So, if a landlord prohibits tenants’ smoking marijuana and complains to the Longmont Housing Authority, an Authority staff member can talk to the client about the matter. If the client didn’t know about the rule and agrees to follow it, the client probably won’t lose their housing or benefits, Reis said.
The new policy allows Authority staff members to work with landlords and clients to resolve problems rather than simply end the client’s benefits, he said.
Weber smiled repeatedly Thursday, relieved that she would not have to chose between the drug that helps her and her home. She uses edibles because the effects last longer than if she smoked, she said.
Since medical marijuana relieves her pain and other symptoms, she has more energy and a better attitude, she said.
“Pain will drain you more than anything in the world,” she said.
“I’m able to be a better mom,” Weber said. “I don’t know how I could keep up with that little boy.”
Contact Times-Call staff writer Victoria Camron at 303-684-5226 or email@example.com