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A Choice Between Home and Medical Marijuana Treatment

Use may affect federal housing voucher eligibility


Recovering cancer patient Robert Jones is caught in the crossfire between state and federal laws governing medical marijuana use. — Matt Slaby/LUCEO

When Robert Jones, 70, was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, he found little relief for the pain that came with his intensive chemotherapy treatments. That is, until his doctor prescribed medical marijuana, which not only eased the pain, but also helped to improve his appetite and limit anxiety.

Today, though Jones' cancer is in remission, he continues to use marijuana to stem the lingering effects of the illness. But he recently learned that the treatment could cost him his home.

In October, the Las Vegas, N.M., resident received a letter indicating that he would no longer be eligible for the federal housing voucher that helps cover his $400-a-month rent. The reason: Though Jones' use of medical marijuana is permitted in New Mexico, the drug is not legal at the federal level, wrote Gilbert Almanza Jr., executive director of the San Miguel County Section 8 Housing Program.

Jones appealed the decision, saying he didn't know what he would do without the voucher. He worried that he would be forced to live in a nursing facility.

And forgoing the marijuana was not an option. "This is a treatment recommended by my doctor, and it's not completed yet," Jones says.

But just six days before the termination was to take effect, Jones got a reprieve: The local county commission voted to rescind the notice and issue an apology.

Almanza and other county officials did not return calls requesting comment.

Michelle Diament is a frequent contributor to the AARP Bulletin.

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