Marijuana & Government Benefits: Does Cannabis Use Prevent You From Receiving Government Aid?

When it comes to marijuana use and government assistance, conflicting state and federal laws make for a confusing regulatory climate. Although marijuana is now legal for recreational use by adults in Nevada, marijuana possession and use can potentially create complications for those who receive government assistance, depending on the circumstances. Here are few details:

  • Government Housing – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made it clear that recreational and medical use of marijuana is prohibited in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) and Public Housing (PH) programs. This is because marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. As such, individuals who live in federally funded housing are prohibited from possessing and using marijuana, just as they are tobacco, on the property. Under HUD guidelines, tenants of federally funded housing can be subject to program termination for having a federally illegal substance in their unit. Although there may be discretion and leniency in some cases, it is important to understand that federal law ultimately preempts state law, even when those laws legalize recreational and medical marijuana.
  • Unemployment – Since 2012, states have been allowed to drug test unemployment applicants under limited circumstances, including situations where applicants lost their jobs for a drug-related issue, and situations where applicants seek employment in jobs that already required drug testing of workers, such as commercial driving. Although most unemployment applicants currently do not undergo drug testing, and therefore do not face implications associated with marijuana use, members of Congress earlier this year sent a bill to President Trump that would vastly expand the number of unemployment applicants who can be tested for drugs prior to receiving benefits. It has still yet to be signed.
  • Drug Testing – Over the course of America’s War on Drugs, there has been ample debate over drug testing people who need government assistance. Although our country has made tremendous strides in reforming drug policies, both at the state and federal level, there remains a number of state and federal legislators who continue to push drug testing as a requirement for various government benefits, including government housing, food stamps, welfare, and unemployment. While many of these bills fail or are ruled unconstitutional by courts, several states across the country – but NOT Nevada – have passed laws mandating drug testing for various government programs. In states where laws require drug testing for certain government benefits, there have been a number of findings to suggest their ineffectiveness. These include excessively high costs for testing that consistently indicates public benefit recipients use drugs at a lower rate than the general population (which is estimated at 9.4%), problems with accuracy and false positives of urine tests, and various constitutional challenges and rulings that drug testing amounts to warrantless search. For many opponents, such drug testing programs succeed only in demonizing the needy, and harming those who need help the most.
  • Felony Drug Convictions – While marijuana possession and use is legal in Nevada, there are still state and federal crimes that may affect one’s ability to receive government benefits. Generally these include serious felonies, such as illegal sale, delivery, cultivation, and transportation involving pot. However, Nevada and many other states have passed legislation extending benefits to convicted drug felons. If you have a felony marijuana-related conviction, your eligibility will largely depend on the program and nature of the offense.
  • Veterans – Because the VA follows federal laws, VA health care providers do not assist Veterans with obtaining medical marijuana, or permit marijuana possession at VA facilities. However, veterans are allowed to participate in state medical marijuana programs without affecting their eligibility for VA services and care.

State & Federal Conflict Continues

Residents of Nevada should understand that marijuana possession and use can potentially affect their ability to remain in federally funded housing programs, as well as whether or not they may need to submit to drug testing for unemployment under limited circumstances (having a drug-related job issue, working in a field where drug testing is required). For other government programs, drug testing is generally not yet a requirement under Nevada or federal law, but strong support from lawmakers across the country could soon change that.

There is no doubt that confusion over when, where, and how marijuana can be used stems from conflicting state and federal laws – and that confusion will likely persist as long as marijuana remains illegal under federal laws. By understanding your rights, the laws in place, and current trends in legalization efforts, you can protect yourself from potential implications involving your benefits and career, and become a larger part of the conversation by expressing your support for needed change and clarity.

Our legal team at Joey Gilbert Law is intimately familiar with state and federal marijuana laws, and is available to assist individual, commercial, and institutional clients who wish to discuss a potential case. Contact us for a free consultation.

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