Medical Marijuana User Faces Eviction -- Again
A cancer patient whose eviction from her federally subsidized apartment around Christmas of 2009 was halted amid an outcry faces homelessness again.
Lori Montroy, 52, said she has been in a panic since she got an eviction notice last month at the apartment where she has lived since 2008.
“It’s just draining the life out of me, these people,” Montroy said. “Why can’t they just leave me be?” Montroy thought her apartment was safe after the last dust-up over her medical marijuana use two years ago.
The company that then managed the apartment complex called off the eviction in early 2010 amid bad publicity following a Northern Express article and a plea from ACLU attorneys. The attorneys argued that under federal law, landlords are not required to evict tenants for drug use under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
Since then, though, another property management company has taken over the building where Montroy lives, and the new landlord says he plans to go ahead with the eviction.
The landlord, Steve Wright, says he would like to help Montroy find another place to live, if she’s willing to accept it.
But as for his apartment complex, Wright said he does not allow users of medical marijuana and he said he cannot make exceptions.
‘NOT HURTING ANYONE’
Montroy, who suffers from an aggressive and fatal form of brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme, for which marijuana gives her some respite, said she is afraid she’s going to wind up without a home.
It didn’t take long for the new managers, who took over late last year, to discover her marijuana use and to initiate eviction proceedings against her, she said.
When a property manager visited her apartment in February, not long after Montroy had smoked some marijuana, the manager apparently could smell marijuana smoke and left the apartment abruptly.
Days later Montroy received a “notice of lease violation” and on March 24 she received an eviction notice.
Montroy maintains she is harmless and believes the management doesn’t need to evict her.
“They have an option, it’s written right in the law, that they do not have to kick me out,” Montroy said. “I’m not hurting anyone, so I don’t know why they would want to kick me out.”
She said she always pays her rent on time and never causes any trouble.
Montroy also says she complies fully with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. She never possesses more than what is allowed and she keeps her supply locked up.
Montroy said she believes use of marijuana has helped her get through an incredibly painful and difficult ordeal and she credits the drug with helping restore her health.
Montroy said a recent MRI showed the tumor was gone, though she said she is still experiencing the same pain that had been caused by the tumor, something she said her doctor now attributes to swelling. She will know more in six months when she gets another MRI, she said.
‘NOTHING I CAN DO’
Wright, owner of the Elk Rapids Apartments and their Shelby Townshipbased management company, Prime Properties Management, LLC, said he has been following a policy for two years to evict medical marijuana patients from his properties and he cannot make an exception in this case.
“If I start making special rules for her, I’d have to make special rules for everyone,” Wright said.
He said he has already evicted other tenants over medical marijuana use, though he didn’t know how many, and he said it has never stirred controversy. Wright’s company owns apartment buildings throughout the state, primarily in small, rural towns.
Wright said he wants to help Montroy and he recently extended the eviction period by 30 days, but he said she has been unwilling to accept his offer to help her find a new apartment.
He said since Montroy receives state housing aid, as opposed to federal aid, she needs to find housing in a complex operating through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
He said he would otherwise like to keep her as a tenant.
“The government pays for her rent. I’d like her to stay there, and I feel for her story, but there’s nothing I can do,” Wright said.
He said his “no medical marijuana” policy follows an opinion from the USDA Office of General Counsel that says landlords should not tolerate marijuan use. He said if he changes that policy now it would be unfair to his tenants who expect a drug-free environment.
“Federal law trumps state law,” said Wright, who is an attorney. “It’s still a violation of federal law if you have drugs in your apartment. If I make an exception now, I have no policy.”
‘AMOUNTS TO DISCRIMINATION’
Daniel Korobkin, an attorney with the ACLU in Detroit who is working on behalf of Montroy, said medical marijuana users should have a right to be free from housing discrimination.
“The people of this state said overwhelmingly with their vote that they supported the right to use medical marijuana, just like other citizens use other medications to treat their illnesses,” Korobkin said. “What this really amounts to is discrimination against medical marijuana patients who are doing their best to treat their medical conditions the way their doctor has approved.”
Korobkin said federal law and policies regarding drugs in subsidized housing come from an era when there was concern about street-corner drug dealers and violent drug users in housing projects.
The policies did not envision a lawabiding, cancer-stricken woman in her 50s who poses no threat to her neighbors.
Korobkin agreed that federal policy says landlords who offer federally subsidized housing may evict based on medical marijuana use, but he said the policy also says that landlords should examine the specific facts in each case.
In this case, that would mean looking at the hardship Montroy has endured, the severity of her illness, and the likelihood that she could become homeless.
“The only question here is whether a landlord such as Lori’s is going to recognize that her illness and her medical treatment is entitled to the same respect as anyone else’s,” he said. “This is a clear case of somebody who is using medical marijuana to treat her illness. She’s not a threat to socitety.”
Korobkin said he could imagine circumstances where a landlord might rightly want to evict a medical marijuana user.
“Maybe in some circumstances, maybe a medical marijuana patient is a threat to the area and maybe, in those circumstances, it is appropriate to take action,” he said.
ACLU PLEADS FOR COMPASSION
Korobkin wrote a letter to Wright’s company on Montroy’s behalf and he pleaded with the company to consider that federal law leaves the decision over whether to evict a medical marijuana user to the landlord.
“In other words, a landlord or property manager who exercises her discretion not to evict a medical marijuana patient will face no fine, loss of funding, or any other penalty,” Korobkin wrote. “There is no federal requirement that you evict Ms. Montroy for using medical marijuana.”
The ACLU urged Wright and his property management company to show compassion in this case.
There is a quirk in federal law that would make an eviction devastating for someone like Montroy, he wrote.
That’s because federal law does prohibit landlords of federally subsidized housing from accepting new tenants who violate drug laws, so evicting Montroy would effectively prevent her from getting into other federally subsidized housing.
“The way that housing assistance works is that it’s usually a combination of state and federal assistance,” Korobkin said in an interview. “I do know that she faces a serious risk of not being able to get additional housing” should she be evicted.
What landlords decide to do in cases like this could have wide-reaching implications.
While data is not available about how many medical marijuana patients live in subsidized housing, as of the end of January, Michigan was home to 131,483 medical marijuana patients, according to the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
‘BLAH, BLAH. BLAH, BLAH’
Montroy said she keeps her marijuana use to herself and doesn’t bother anyone else.
When she first learned of the prospect she could be evicted this time around, she said she attempted to work it out directly with the property manager, to explain that she’d already been through this before, but that went nowhere.
The property manager “said, ‘Well, our lease says blah, blah, blah, blah,” Montroy said.
Montroy said she cannot afford to move into a new apartment.
“If I had the money to go, I’d go, I’d get the heck out of here,” said Montroy, who said there are good and bad neighbors at the Elk Rapids apartments and she would prefer to live in a house where she wouldn’t have to worry about neighbors. But she can’t afford to move. “I don’t have the money.”
As for Wright’s offer to help Montroy find a place to live using state housing aid, Montroy said she is not aware of it.
“He hasn’t offered me anything,” Montroy said.