Federal rules prevent Virginia public housing authorities from allowing marijuana


Although the recreational use and possession of marijuana just became legal in Virginia, a person who lives in public housing or receives federal rental assistance could still be evicted if they use the product because of federal rules.

Adults 21 years of age or older can legally use marijuana in the commonwealth as of July 1 even though the plant is still federally illegal. Organizations that receive federal funding, such as public housing authorities, would risk losing their federal funding if they ignored the federal law and allowed marijuana consumption and possession.

“Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) receives federal funding and follows federal law, which states that marijuana possession and consumption are illegal,” Nealy Gihan, a spokesperson for NRHA, told The Center Square. “The new Virginia laws that allow for consumption, possession, and home cultivation of marijuana do not apply to residents living in public housing or federal rental assistance housing.”

Gihan said any person in violation of the federal law is violating his or her lease agreement and could be subject to eviction.

Federal laws prohibiting the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana also carry over to public universities because they also receive federal funds. Many public universities have updated their rules to explicitly prohibit marijuana on their campuses to prevent the loss of federal funds.

Violet Cavendish, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Center Square that fixing the conflict between federal and state law requires action by Congress.

“Prohibiting marijuana in federally-subsidized housing is concerning as it will likely impact the same communities that have been harmed the most by marijuana prohibition,” Cavendish said. “In order for this outdated policy to change, Congress must take action to address the untenable conflict between state and federal marijuana laws by moving forward with cannabis policy reforms. In the meantime, public housing authorities should inform residents of their policies regarding marijuana, review violations on a case-by-case basis, and should choose not to terminate the leases of existing tenants who use marijuana.”

Virginia law allows the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use and allows a person to grow up to four marijuana plants per household. It will be legal for adults at least 21 years old to transfer up to an ounce of marijuana to adults of age. However, it will remain illegal to sell marijuana to any person, receive any kind of remuneration for the product or provide the product as a gift if it is contingent on a separate commercial transaction.

Possessing more than one ounce of marijuana, but no more than one pound of marijuana would subject a person to a $25 civil fine. Possessing more than one pound of marijuana would subject a person to a felony charge.

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