Medical pot user to lose rent subsidy

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By David Giuliani

Las Vegas resident Robert Jones isn’t shy about saying that he grows marijuana plants in his house. His cancer qualifies him as a legal user.
But that apparently doesn’t matter to San Miguel County’s housing voucher program — known as Section 8.
On Oct. 12, the program’s executive director, Gilbert Almanza, informed Jones that he would no longer be getting the Section 8 benefit, effective Nov. 30.

Almanza said in his letter to Jones that while medical marijuana is legal in New Mexico, it remains illegal at the federal level.

As such, Jones violated the local program’s administrative policies barring any beneficiaries who have committed drug-related criminal activity, Almanza wrote.

Jones was given 10 days to appeal.

Jones said that because the letter was actually mailed out on Oct. 15, he had until Monday to appeal. He said he filed an appeal.
“I’m not capable of doing this myself. I’m more disabled than I let myself believe,” he said. “I don’t know why they’re squeezing me like this. It’s causing me a lot of anxiety. I wish they would stop.”

San Miguel County Manager Les Montoya, who is Almanza’s supervisor, said the county would have to investigate the issues involving medical marijuana now that Jones is questioning the county’s decision.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds the Section 8 program, which provides vouchers that help low-income people pay for housing.

Patricia Campbell, a spokeswoman for the agency, didn’t have an immediate answer when asked if the federal government allows Section 8 recipients to use medical marijuana. She said she would research the issue.

Last year, the Justice Department announced that it wouldn’t prosecute the operators of medical marijuana dispensaries. That reflects President Obama’s campaign promise that he would support the controlled use of marijuana for medical purposes.

In September, John Emerick, a caregiver for Jones, who is a patient within the state’s medical marijuana program, was charged with three drug-related offenses — distribution, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana.

Both Emerick and Jones have been issued identification cards by the state Health Department’s Medical Cannabis Program.

Jones said it was his marijuana, not Emerick’s, that police confiscated.

Emerick, who had reportedly been growing marijuana, had a caregiver identification card with the state program. But the Region 4 Narcotics Task Force maintained that Emerick didn’t have a legal right to produce the marijuana for Jones. State law allows Emerick to have useable marijuana only for his patient, the task force contended.

As for his situation, Jones said that once he loses Section 8 assistance, it would be years before the program would have open enrollment again.

“I cannot pay my full rent without assistance,” he said.