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Editorial: Shameful eviction of man from Niagara Falls apartment

There are nuances to the story of John Flickner, but the bottom line is this: A 78-year-old man in failing health was evicted from his Niagara Falls apartment for legally using medically prescribed marijuana. The word shameful hardly begins to describe it.

His landlord is legally allowed to evict him, but that doesn’t make it right. We urge the company managing his former building to rethink its inflexible policy toward marijuana use.

Flickner has a doctor’s prescription for cannabis to ease chronic pain from a skydiving accident 50 years ago. He also carries a New York medical marijuana card.

His building, Niagara Towers on Cedar Avenue, is a senior low-income housing facility subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The building is operated by LHP Capital, a Tennessee company.

Flickner first ran afoul of his building’s management company last June, when staff members in his building spotted a small amount of marijuana on a table in his apartment. He had been smoking pot that he says he obtained legally from a doctor in Canada.

LHP Capital policy requires its personnel to call police when any tenant is found with marijuana, which, though approved in New York and 32 other states for medical use, is still illegal under federal law. The U.S. government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, the same category as heroin, meaning it has no therapeutic value. The linkage is itself hallucinatory and has resulted in cruelty.

Niagara Falls police detectives came to Flickner’s apartment in June and confiscated his marijuana, but did not charge him with any crime. They told him he would need a prescription to use medical marijuana; he soon got one.

Building management, however, began eviction proceedings against him. Flickner two years earlier had signed a lease that stated no drugs were allowed.

“We don’t allow marijuana of any kind – liquid, smoking, whatever,” Amy Styles, a spokeswoman for LHP Capital, told The Buffalo News.

Flickner and LHP Capital had their day in court, on Nov. 1. A Niagara Falls city court judge found in the company’s favor, and later signed an eviction notice.

The building operator is within its legal rights. Federal law gives HUD building managers the flexibility to allow residents to take the prescribed drug. But it’s still wrong.

HUD issued a memo in 2014 telling landlords that marijuana is still listed as an illegal substance under federal law, and prospective tenants who use controlled substances are to be barred from public housing. But the 1998 law gives owners discretion on evicting tenants for marijuana use.

Using its discretion to evict Flickner was a choice. The company also could have let him stay. Instead, it kicked a suffering, elderly resident into the street.

Officers from the City Marshal’s Office evicted Flickner on Tuesday. In 28-degree weather, he rode in his motorized wheelchair across Portage Road to a shelter that took him in.

Flickner fell while skydiving in Idaho in 1968. He has five fused vertebrae and has undergone four surgeries on his spine and hips. Does there exist a more clear-cut case for not having a zero tolerance policy on prescribed drugs?

The use of medical marijuana is expanding rapidly, in New York and throughout the country. Those who set federal policies, as well as those who follow them, need to catch up to that reality.

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