The Answers Issue: Can I refuse to rent to a medical marijuana user?

Can I refuse to rent to a pot smoker? I own and live in a D.C. rowhouse; my basement is a rental unit. My fear is marijuana smoke would rise up into the main part of the house and make me ill.

The District’s medical marijuana laws have already been blamed for threatening property values in Ward 5 and encouraging teen drug use. But the situation you describe would be the first time they threatened a landlord’s health. Elliot Imse, a spokesman for the District’s Office of Human Rights, writes that he can’t say whether denying a prospective renter who uses medical marijuana would be discriminatory. His agency would need a test case, and the law is so new there hasn’t been one yet.

In some states, superseding federal laws on the drug has protected landlords who are allergic to pot (or just allergic to pot-smokers). Michigan’s attorney general ruled that landlords could deny medical marijuana users the right to use their drug, in part because it could make other tenants fear for their safety. Meanwhile in California, where medical marijuana users supposedly run rampant, an L.A. mental-health nonprofit advises its clients that Iandlords can refuse blazing tenants just on the basis of the drug’s federal status.

In the meantime, take solace in the fact that, with the District’s medical marijuana law set to be restrictive, your chances of getting a renter with a prescription are low. Just to be sure, though, when you do find a new tenant, give them a move-in gift: a vaporizer.

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