Drug case could cost family its home

June 01, 2005

Noel S. Brady, King County Journal

A Kent family of three threatened with eviction for possessing medical marijuana have won their legal battle to stay in their apartment but now face the prospect of losing their federal housing subsidies.

Medical marijuana is legal in Washington state, but possessing it is illegal under federal law.

Bruce and Rainee Osman won their eviction trial Wednesday in King County Superior Court. However, the doctor-prescribed plants police found in their car last month could mean the end of their federal assistance for Section 8 housing.

``We haven't done anything bad, other than the mistakes we made years ago,'' said 43-year-old Bruce Osman. ``If they evict us or we lose our funding, I don't know what will become of us.''

The legal conflict threatens to bulldoze the progress Osman and his wife have made since having their daughter Chandler six years ago. Back then, they were homeless and living off what they could make selling `Real Change,' a newspaper about homelessness, at the Pike Place Market.

The couple met a decade ago in Las Vegas. They married and soon moved to Spokane, to care for Rainee's grandfather.

A year later, a job offer brought them to Seattle. But the job fell through, Bruce Osman said, and their savings eventually ran out.

When Chandler was born, finding decent housing became a necessity, Osman said, so the couple began researching federal housing programs.

About a year ago, they moved into the Alderbrook Apartments in Kent, where they've paid $400 a month in rent plus federal subsidies of about $600 a month.

But even $400 for rent has been hard to meet because of their health problems, Osman said. Both he and his wife have been out of work in recent months. Both have hepatitis C, and Rainee endures chronic migraine headaches.

A doctor prescribed them both marijuana -- for Bruce's pain and vomiting and his wife's headaches.

Things took a turn for the worse May 7, Osman said, when a Section 8 housing inspector visited their apartment. Osman said he had removed the plants and grow lights from the apartment and put them in the back seat of his car simply to avoid any problems with the inspector.

``These people are of an attitude that makes us fear telling them we have medical marijuana,'' he said. ``All I was trying to do was defuse this nightmare. Letting people know about it is a real security problem for my family.''

When the housing inspector noticed some growing equipment left in the apartment, he said, the inspector told his landlord he suspected Osman was growing.

Less than two days later, Kent police raided the apartment and seized the plants from Osman's car.

In court Wednesday, the Osmans' attorney, Eric Dunn, defended the couple from claims by their landlord that they possessed more than the 60-day supply of pot allowed under the state's medical marijuana law.

The landlord also claimed that Osman violated a part of the medical marijuana law that requires marijuana be kept out of plain sight, when he put his plants in his car.

Police seized 35 plants, but didn't charge the Osmans with any crime. Osman said only 15 of the plants were mature females and nearly ready for cultivation.

The judge agreed that the Osmans were within the word of the law.

``We won the battle to keep the physical premises,'' Osman said, ``but if we lose our funding we can't afford it.''

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