In Sherwood Associates, LP v. Jackson, January 2019, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that an owner could evict a resident for marijuana use that violated the terms of the lease – even though the use of medically prescribed marijuana is legal in Maine.
Facts of the Case
- In December 2016, the owner issued the resident (Jackson) an eviction notice stating that his use and possession of marijuana violated the terms of the lease that prohibited unlawful activity in the unit because “medical marijuana is illegal under federal law even if it is permitted under state law.”
- The resident submitted a request to the owner for a reasonable accommodation to use marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with the Maine Human Rights Act.
- The eviction was delayed while the owner reviewed the request.
- In April 2017, the owner denied the request, stating “Under federal law marijuana is a controlled substance and possession or manufacture of marijuana is a violation of federal law. Fairfield Family Housing is an affordable housing complex that receives federal funds and is subject to oversight and frequent audits by the federal government. In the Landlord’s view, a request for accommodation that results in a violation of federal law is per se unreasonable and exposes the Landlord to potential liability and/or noncompliance with federal regulations.”
- The owner issued a 30-day notice that it was terminating the resident’s lease since the unit had been used for unlawful purposes and activities. The notice stated that the resident had also refused access to the bedroom that was used as a marijuana grow room; installed a lock on the bedroom without permission; threatened physical harm to staff seeking to inspect the bedroom; smoked marijuana in his unit in violation of a no-smoking policy; and grew and possessed marijuana in violation of a zero-tolerance drug policy.
- The lower court granted possession of the unit to the landlord – the resident appealed.
- The Maine Supreme Court ruled for the owner and affirmed the lower court’s decision
- The Court found that the resident violated the lease in three ways that were independent of the marijuana use: (1) He denied access to the unit in violation of the lease; (2) he installed a lock on the bedroom (grow room) in violation of the lease; and (3) he intimidated and threatened staff in violation of the lease.
While this case does indicate that owners in states that allow the use of medically prescribed marijuana may be able to deny a reasonable accommodation request for the use of marijuana and prevail in state court, key elements in the court decision had nothing to do with the actual use of the marijuana. Other lease violations appear to have played a key role in the court’s final decision. Based on this, it is recommended that prior to rejecting requests for reasonable accommodations relative to the use of marijuana in states that permit it, owners consult with local counsel who are familiar with the state law and how it may be interpreted in court vis a vis the federal drug laws. This remains an evolving area of law and care should be taken when refusing reasonable accommodation requests in this area.