RYAN ALEXANDER-TANNER

I have to give you the classic lawyer answer on this one, which is: “It depends.” But first, I need to back up and explain how public housing and weed works, so that this answer makes sense to you and everyone else.

About 4.8 million people in the US receive financial assistance through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs. Some of them smoke weed. HUD programs create affordable housing for low-income individuals and individuals with disabilities. Section 8 is the specific HUD program that provides rental assistance to low-income households. Section 8 is generally administered by city and county agencies known as Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). The one here in Portland is pretty close to the Mercury office, sharing our building on Southwest Ash.

When someone applies to a PHA and qualifies for Section 8 housing, they get a voucher and tell the PHA where they want to live. The PHA checks it out, and then enters into a contract with the landlord. The contract does not talk about weed. Instead, it just guarantees that the PHA is going to pay the landlord X amount of dollars per month if the landlord will sign a lease. The voucher recipient pays the rest.

HUD is a federal agency, which doesn’t necessarily mean that HUD is concerned with cannabis. Federal policy is all over the place on weed these days: Agencies take various approaches—some more coherent or reasonable than others. In the case of HUD, it has observed that a federal law called the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) requires program landlords to adopt leases that allow the landlord to evict “anyone found to be in possession of an illegal substance.”

“Marijuana” is an illegal substance under federal law, and for a while there, landlords who were paranoid or mean or not especially thoughtful were reading QHWRA to require eviction of cannabis users. Those landlords were evicting pot-smoking tenants and pointing straight at HUD. Eventually HUD caught wind of that and, in 2011, clarified that, no, we don’t read the law to require that at all. Instead, QHWRA only requires landlords to keep the eviction option available. Essentially, HUD has been telling landlords: “We don’t care; it’s up to you. Just never promise not to evict.”

So, your question was whether you could be evicted for smoking weed. The full answer is, “It depends on how your landlord feels about smoking weed in the property.” That answer would be the same if you had cannabis gummy bears or topical balm lying around: All of this constitutes “possession of an illegal substance” under QHWRA. The safest course, I suppose, would be to keep your weed use on the down-low unless you are confident your landlord doesn’t mind. But an eviction would not be required solely because you live in Section 8 housing.


Got a question? Email us at potlawyer@portlandmercury.com. And remember that if you have a legal problem, contact a lawyer! Our educational musings cannot be relied upon as specific legal advice.