The New York Civil Liberties Union and the State Health Department on Friday blasted a landlord's eviction of a Niagara Falls man for using medical marijuana.
LHP Capital of Knoxville, Tenn., owner of Niagara Towers in Niagara Falls, booted 78-year-old John Flickner from his apartment Tuesday for violating the company's zero-tolerance drug policy, which was written into Flickner's lease.
Flickner, who uses marijuana to reduce pain and muscle spasms stemming from a broken back suffered in a 1968 skydiving accident, ended up moving to a Niagara Falls homeless shelter.
Rents at Niagara Towers are subsidized by the federal government, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development has told landlords that it's up to them whether to allow users of medical marijuana to remain in their properties.
Marijuana remains an illegal controlled substance under federal law, which HUD says governs publicly subsidized housing.
"No one’s housing should be put at risk because of a medical prescription," said John A. Curr III, director of the Western Regional Office of the NYCLU.
"This tragic set of circumstances is a clear example of the destabilizing harm that marijuana prohibition continues to perpetuate in the lives of New Yorkers, particularly those living on the margins," Curr said. "The time has come for legalization at the state level to begin the repair of this harm in New York communities, especially since change at the federal level is unlikely anytime soon."
"New York’s Medical Marijuana Program was established so that patients suffering from debilitating illnesses could have access to an alternative treatment option. No one should be forced out of their home for using a medication permitted under state law to treat a serious disease or condition," said Jill E. Montag, spokeswoman for the Health Department.
"Stable housing is essential to good health, and New York State law protects patients who are discriminated against because of their lawful participation in the Medical Marijuana Program," Montag said.
The state medical marijuana law, passed in 2014, includes a protective provision for users.
It says certified medical marijuana patients, caregivers and distributors "shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege … solely for the certified medical use or manufacture of marijuana."
But HUD's policy memo says federal law, under which all uses of pot remain illegal, preempts state laws.
Flickner got in trouble in June for smoking pot that he said he obtained through a doctor in Canada. Niagara Falls police, called to his apartment, confiscated the marijuana but filed no charges. Instead, they advised him to obtain a state medical marijuana card, which he did.
However, LHP's local attorney, Jason J. Cafarella, said the use of marijuana before Flickner had a state license was a significant issue at Flickner's eviction hearing Nov. 1 in Niagara Falls City Court. Judge Danielle M. Restaino issued an eviction order after the hearing.