The board of commissioners of the Chicago Housing Authority voted on Tuesday to approve a new policy to help protect residents from being evicted for using cannabis. The board’s action revises an announcement from the agency last year that warned to end assistance for those found in possession of pot despite the legalization of marijuana in Illinois.

Under the newly revised policy, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) says that it plans to “work with residents, participants, applicants, and landlords to provide information and guidance in their efforts to exercise their rights under local law without jeopardizing their housing under federal law.”

Despite the legalization of cannabis that went into effect in Illinois on January 1, marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law. That contradiction led the CHA, which receives funding from the federal government, to announce that cannabis would not be acceptable in public housing once marijuana became legal at the state level. In a letter sent to the 63,000 households managed by the agency in November, residents were warned that any marijuana possession or use was grounds for eviction.

“The CHA can TERMINATE all assistance … if you, a member of your household, or a guest or person under your control is found engaging in drug-related criminal activity, including the use and/or possession of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes,” read a notice sent to housing voucher recipients at the time.

Mitigating Factors to be Considered

According to the new policy, possession, distribution, cultivation, or use of marijuana in public housing facilities can still be cause for a review by the agency, but each case will now be considered on an individual basis with any mitigating factors taken into account.

“These mitigating circumstances include the time, nature and extent of the conduct; the relationship of the conduct to the disability of a family member; its impact on others; the impact of a proposed action on family members; the viability of limiting a negative action to certain users rather than entire families; and any factors that might indicate a reasonable probability of favorable future conduct of the Resident or Participant, including rehabilitation,” the policy states.

Jeremy Jacobs, the CEO of cannabis retail technology company Enlighten, told local media that public housing residents shouldn’t have to choose between their rights.

“You’re making a choice: which one of my rights do I want to have? Do I want to have my state’s rights or do I want to have my federal rights?” he said. “You’ve got a situation where the federal subsidy with housing – people that are known medical consumers – and all of a sudden you have these federal regulators that are able to control these people’s housing.”

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