Many low income and disabled Americans rely on federally subsidized housing to survive, just as many Americans rely on medical cannabis to treat their medical conditions. Right now, it is legal to possess medical cannabis in many states and the District of Columbia, but it’s illegal for residents of federally subsidized housing to possess it inside their home. For Cannabis Wire, Vittoria Elliott looks at how many Section 8 residents secretly use legal cannabis for their health while living in fear of losing the housing they rely on. Poverty and class play into this problem, as does the way state legalizations conflict with federal law’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance.

“What we’ve created is a two-tiered legal system when it comes medical cannabis,” said Chris Alexander, a policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) New York office. “There’s one set of laws for the poor and another set of laws for everyone else. You can’t be both sick and poor. If you don’t have your own home, you can’t participate.”

Alexander directs the DPA’s efforts to change cannabis policy in New York state. He says that the public housing smoking ban, passed in 2016, added complications for medical cannabis users across the country. Under the ban, intended for tobacco, smoking in the home is a violation like a traffic ticket, but smoking outside the building is permitted. Tenants who don’t want to risk smoking cannabis in their apartments have nowhere else to go; smoking cannabis outside is illegal even in legal jurisdictions like D.C.

“The smoking ban meant a double criminalization,” Alexander said. “The solution is a designated space where people can go and consume.”