Federal housing in Colorado remains off-limits to marjuana — for now

Nancy Lofholm, The Denver Post

Coloradans who live in the nearly 300 federally subsidized housing projects in the state are blocked by federal regulations from using marijuana in their homes in spite of state legalization — but that could be changing at some point.

"In the next couple of years, we are probably going to see new policies. This is still so new. We are still trying to see what should happen," said Eric Garcia, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development project manager in Denver "In the meantime, we have to adhere to policy."

That policy means no pot smoking or consuming pot in any other manner in housing projects built and operated with federal funds or insured by HUD. That goes for medical marijuana as well as recreational.

"I'm optimistic it is going to change," said Mark Silverstein, director of the Colorado Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He called it "overkill" to evict someone from housing for using medical or recreational pot.

While they wait for change, some residents of low-income housing projects say they feel discriminated against because they aren't free to enjoy the benefits of marijuana legalization.

"So West Jeffco (Jefferson County) wealthy people get to 'use,' but those of us with lower incomes get to 'stifle,' " Richard Thornton, a resident of the federally subsidized Redwood Village Apartments in Arvada, wrote in an e-mail to The Denver Post.

Even though the federal policy is clear that marijuana is still considered an illegal drug and, as such, is prohibited in public housing, whether that policy will result in evictions in the wake of state legalization may be piecemeal.

Garcia and other HUD officials are publicly adhering to the federal hard line that any form of marijuana on HUD properties is illegal. But project managers say there is sometimes a wink and nod involved. Garcia said he doesn't know of evictions for marijuana use because that would be carried out by individual property managers.

"We have never evicted anyone for marijuana," said Lori Rosendahl, chief operating officer of the Grand Valley Housing Authority that oversees numerous HUD and non-HUD housing projects in the Grand Junction area. "The guidance we have been getting on our HUD projects has been along the lines of, 'It's legal there, so temper policy with some common sense.' "

She said her agency would not consider evicting someone for marijuana use unless it was part of an egregious string of violations or it was bothering the neighbors.

She said, as with federal projects, common sense prevails when administering her own agency's policies.

Residents of Redwood Village Apartments recently received a written no-marijuana policy.

Thornton said he is angry about that policy because he sees it as a rights violation even though he said he does not use marijuana.

"In light of the federal government, as per the Attorney General, saying that the federal government would not interfere with Colorado legalization, that appears to be a lie," Thornton wrote.

Kris Hermes, with the national Americans for Safe Access social justice group, said he is hearing that the Obama administration is already setting up meetings to come up with new policies that will address the dichotomy in public housing rules regarding marijuana.