Only a few months after New York lawmakers voted to ban mandatory drug tests for marijuana as a condition of employment, another pro-cannabis measure has been approved in the State – this time, to protect medical cannabis patients from housing discrimination.
Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Anna Kaplan (D), the legislation S.4117 “prohibits the eviction of tenants for using medical marihuana for a certified medical use.”
The bill, originally introduced by Sen. Kaplan in February 2019, had been approved by the New York Senate in April last year. However, the proposition died in the Assembly months later and was therefore sent back to the Senate.
Now, the bill was once again cleared in a 58-2 vote and is now on its way to the Assembly for consideration.
In justifying its passage, a memo accompanying the legislation states that the measure “would seek to ensure that tenants lawfully using medical marijuana are protected from eviction proceedings.”
The memo also linked the bill to the story of John Flickner, the 78-year-old man who had been evicted from his apartment in Niagara Falls in 2018 over his use of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain caused by his spine injury.
78-Year-Old Medical Cannabis Patient Evicted from Apartment in 2018
Flicker is “a legal, registered medical cannabis patient in New York,” High Times reported. At the time, he uses the drug with a doctor’s prescription and has purchased his vape pen and cannabis oil from a licensed medical cannabis dispensary.
However, while the state law allows Flickner to use cannabis as a medical treatment recommended by a licensed physician, the federal law does not prohibit his landlord from evicting him from his apartment over his drug use.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a law, which many interpreted to be a measure forbidding landlords running federally-subsidized housing facilities from accepting tenants who use illicit substances.
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, however, a memo clarifying the 1998 law states that it only provides landlords “the discretion to evict or not evict current tenants for their use of marijuana” rather than requires them.
Since marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, this gave Flickner’s landlord the legal right to evict him from his residence.
It is not only a few days later, when the story of Flickner exploded on mainstream media, that the 78-year-old man was allowed to move back to his apartment.
“The case was then reviewed by a regional housing administrator, who wrote that “state (and) federal law needs to catch up with medicinal marihuana usage (and) require private landlords to legally permit the same,” a statement which prompted the company that evicted the elderly man to reverse its decision,” High Times wrote.
If signed into law, legislation 4117 would make a huge difference in the status of tenants using legally-prescribed medical cannabis.
Specifically, under S.4117, it states:
“It shall be a defense to a proceeding to recover possession of a residential unit that a landlord seeks such recovery because of a person’s certified medical use of medical marihuana, and that, but for such use, the landlord would not seek to recover possession.”
The bill also notes that “[a] landlord may rebut such defense by showing that he or she seeks to recover possession of a residential unit because of any other lawful ground.”
Legislation S.4117 and Oregon’s SB 970
New York’s legislation S.4117 shares a few similarities to a bill recently passed in Oregon, which bans landlords from rejecting prospective tenants over their status as medical marijuana patients or if they have prior convictions for minor marijuana convictions.
The bill, called SB 970, was passed by the Oregon Senate by a vote of 17-9 last year and was passed by the state House of Representatives by a vote of 36-21 as well. Later, it was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in June 2019 and took into effect on January 1, 2020.
“Oftentimes patients are forced to choose between their health and well-being and suitable housing,” Carly Wolf, the state policies coordinator of NORML, commented at the time. “No human being should have to make that choice. And starting next year in Oregon, no patient will have to. It’s about time that patients and consumers are no longer arbitrarily discriminated against for being compliant with state law.”
Overall, the approval of the NY Senate of the legislation S.4117 follows a series of different attempts led by varying legislators to push for laws designed to protect marijuana users from discrimination in the state.
In March 2019, New York City officials passed a measure that bans most employers from having mandatory pre-employment drug testing for marijuana as a part of their hiring process.
Under the said law, “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law, it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer, labor organization, employment agency, or agent thereof to require a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of any tetrahydrocannabinols or marijuana in such prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment.”
Earlier this year, legislation was also introduced in the U.S. Senate, banning landlords from evicting tenants over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so. Unfortunately, other than that, the bill lacks “additional protections for other state-legal cannabis activities, including simple possession,” Marijuana Moment reported at the time.
To date, 33 states have already legalized medical marijuana use – including New York, while 10 states have also legalized recreational marijuana use.
“It’s clear that we cannot wait until legalization on the state level before moving to reduce the impact that marijuana prohibition has had on individuals and communities,” Jumaane Williams (D), New York City Public Advocate, said in May last year.