The New York State Senate recently passed a bill that will prevent landlords from evicting tenants because of medical marijuana use. The legislation specifically ensures that tenants who lawfully use medical cannabis are shielded from eviction proceedings in New York. What could the new eviction law mean for cannabis operators who are looking to make inroads in NY’s medical cannabis market?
New York Law to Protect Medical Cannabis Patients Gets Bipartisan Support
The NY eviction bill was sponsored by Democratic Senator Anna Kaplan, who represents New York’s 7th State Senate district that runs from the North Shore to Western Nassau County in Long Island. (The three co-sponsors of the bill were also Democratic state senators: Robert Jackson, Brian Kavanagh, and John C. Liu.) The legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support, with 58 senators voting in favor of it and just two (2) senators voting against it.
NY lawmakers determined that the legislation was necessary after a 78-year-old Niagara Falls man was evicted by a private landlord from his federally subsidized housing for using medical cannabis to treat chronic pain. The justification for the eviction was that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a strict policy of evicting anyone caught using marijuana on the premises. That policy is in line with federal law that prohibits the use of marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes; however, it does not match the state law in New York that allows for the use of marijuana by patients with a valid prescription.
After a Region II administrator with HUD went to social media to issue a statement about NY state law being at odds with federal law, the landlord in Niagara Falls rescinded the eviction decision. But the possibility remained that more tenants in New York could face eviction proceedings and other legal consequences in the future due to the lack of clarity regarding differing state and federal laws on medical cannabis use. Members of the New York State Senate feared that more NY residents could potentially be forced out of their homes by landlords who want to make sure that they comply with the federal prohibition of all marijuana.
Conflict Between NY Law and Federal Law on Medical Marijuana
Under NY state law, it is lawful for a person with a qualified medical condition and a valid prescription from a licensed physician to obtain medical cannabis. The law to end the prohibition against medical marijuana in New York was passed as part of the Compassionate Care Act in 2014. The New York State Department of Health subsequently implemented the NY Medical Marijuana Program, which allows for the use of medical cannabis to treat certain qualifying conditions, such as cancer, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. There are safeguards in place to ensure that only individuals with qualifying medical conditions can legally obtain cannabis in New York.
But individuals who legally use medical marijuana in New York still face potential legal consequences because federal law continues to ban marijuana. That is why NY legislators stepped in. The legislation amends the NY real property actions and proceedings law by adding a new section. This new section in the real property law makes it clear that individuals who use medical marijuana cannot be evicted from their homes solely on the basis of using the doctor-prescribed cannabis by stipulating that “a tenant shall not be removed from a residential unit because of their certified medical use of marijuana.”
A landlord who wishes to evict a tenant on grounds other than medical marijuana use will still be able to do so. That’s because the new law provides landlords with a rebuttable defense that allows them to show that they are seeking to recover possession of a residential unit on some other lawful ground.
What Are the Next Steps for Recreational Cannabis Legalization in NY?
After passing in the NY State Senate, the medical marijuana eviction bill was sent to the New York State Assembly and then referred to the Assembly Housing Committee.
New York legislators have tried for years to get recreational cannabis use legalized in the state. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has put an adult-use cannabis legalization provision in his budget over the last two years. Now those efforts are picking up steam as some progressive advocates argue that legalizing marijuana could be an important component of police reform efforts in New York.
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