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Home / Articles / News / News /  Longmont woman caught between two laws
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Thursday, December 13,2012

Longmont woman caught between two laws

Mother, son face eviction due to federal housing conflict with state medical marijuana program

By Elizabeth Miller
Photo by Elizabeth Miller
Ashley Weber

The last time Ashley Weber turned her head to look to the side, it was to watch the drunk driver who had just wrecked the truck she was a passenger in walk away from the car. He’d said he was going to take her on the ride of her life, and refused to hand over the keys to the car, let her out at her house or even buckle his seatbelt. She buckled it for him. But speeding down country roads near Wiggins ended in a rollover accident, and Weber says she knew, immediately, she had broken her neck. At 18 years old, Weber was already working full time in the emergency room at the hospital in Fort Morgan and studying to be a doctor, so she knew she shouldn’t be moved. She says she pleaded with the driver to just leave her where she was. Instead, she says, he picked her up like a sack of potatoes. And when she asked him to call 911, he refused, and called her parents instead. She spent six months in the hospital recovering from surgeries to stabilize her neck, where one vertebra had exploded, two had broken and one fractured. Weber, who grew up riding and roping horses and once won a saddle in a barrel racing competition, would have to shift from her active lifestyle to a bedridden one.

Over the past decade, she’s had to relearn how to do everything as a quadriplegic with limited mobility in her arms and almost no use of her hands. Her wrists move, but not her fingers. Just getting out of bed in the morning takes help, and she uses devices to sign, write and even paint.

“I try to do as much as I can,” Weber says. “As far as my limitations and everything, I feel it’s harder, it takes longer, but everything’s do-able.”

Slowly, she moved from assisted living facilities to a home next door to her parents and finally, two years ago, into a house she rents from her aunt and uncle. She says it’s nice to finally not live like a teenager.

She’s not just taking care of herself, now. She’s learned how to handle a pregnancy as a quadriplegic, and how to work around her wheelchair to be a single mother to her 3-year-old son, Collin.

“I always try to think ahead for future instances and for my son,” Weber says. She wanted kids eventually, she says, though Collin was a surprise. He’s a rambunctious kid, she says, but she doesn’t want to depend on a nanny or someone else to take care of him. He’s only 3, but she’s already saving the $93 in support for him that she receives each month so that when he turns 16, he can buy a car.

“I had $10,000 to use for a house that I knew I was going to stay in for a long time, and I saved that until I moved into this house, and it’s been 10 years this year, so I saved it year after year and was very careful about where I wanted to live and where I wanted to be,” she says. “I was planning on being here forever. I just started remodeling. I made the bathrooms where I could actually take a shower. … This was finally home and I made everything accessible.”

She put in hardwood floors, tile flooring and a roll-under sink in the bathroom, in addition to a roll-in shower.

But Weber, who usually plans everything so carefully, was rushing when she did the paperwork to renew her Section 8 housing voucher, paid for by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The voucher makes it possible for her to live on her own with Collin, in a way that the $761 in disability support alone she receives from Social Security could not. The Housing Choice Voucher Program, for families that make 50 percent below the area median income, asks families to pay 30 percent of their gross household income toward housing while the Housing and Urban Development voucher covers the rest.

The renewal form asked for her medical expenses, and she gave it to them, including the receipts she could find for medical marijuana after getting a medical marijuana certification eight months ago. She says it helps with her pain.

But one day before the 10-year anniversary of the car accident that left her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, she received a letter in the mail stating that the housing voucher was being terminated for her use of illegal drugs.

“I didn’t know it was wrong for me to turn in my medical [marijuana] expenses when they asked me to — because they tell you not to be fraudulent,” Weber says.

“We run a federally funded housing program that is paid for by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the federal regs have a very defined drug related criminal activity list that includes the marijuana issue,” says Michael Reis, executive director of the Longmont Housing Authority. “So our policy translates to denying assistance and terminating assistance for participants who commit drug-related criminal activity. That is where we are right now in our admin plan and the current direction from HUD. And I think as we go into the next year, we have to get some better direction from HUD on how we’re supposed to run this federal program in the state of Colorado.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, in response to medical marijuana laws passed in 15 states since 1996, did issue a memorandum in January 2011 saying that while it was still the federal policy not to permit the use of marijuana, medical or otherwise, whether local housing authorities decided to evict someone on the basis of marijuana use was at their discretion. Public housing authorities and owners of houses leased to housing voucher recipients, the memo says, “have the discretion to evict, or refrain from evicting, a current tenant who the PHA or owner determines is illegally using a controlled substance. … Thus, while PHAs and owners may elect to terminate occupancy based on illegal drug use, they are not required to evict current tenants for such use.”

“Marijuana is a controlled substance under the federal controlled substances act, and this is a federal program,” says Janice Rodriquez, division director for the Denver Office of Public Housing. Public housing authorities, like Longmont’s office, have to establish standards that allow them to terminate benefits to a household that demonstrates a pattern of illegal drug use that’s interfering with the health, safety or enjoyment of the property by other residents.

2011-07-09_12-36-21_2777_1.jpg

Ashley Weber and her son Collin in 2011 | Photo courtesy of Ashley Weber

“Our rules don’t require the housing authority to terminate assistance, but our rules do provide that the housing authority needs to have a policy that provides for what to do in those sorts of situations,” Rodriquez says. Unfortunately for people like Weber, the Longmont Housing Authority settled on a zero-tolerance policy.

“We adopted a more stringent policy than probably other housing authorities,” Reis says, while acknowledging that it is likely time for the administrative policy on medical marijuana to be revisited.

Medical marijuana was approved in Colorado in November 2000 and began operating in June 2001. As of September, Boulder County had some 9,344 patients using the drug.

Any changes to the administrative plan will be subject to hearings and review by the Longmont Housing Authority board, a process Reis estimates will take about 90 days to complete.

Meanwhile, Weber has been asked to follow the protocol of the current system — to request a hearing to review her case — and it’s been suggested that she request a hearing delay until June, well after the new administrative policy has been crafted.

Boulder County staff are also currently researching and planning how to handle these intersections of state-run programs and federal drug-use laws, and expect that process to be completed by April.

“In general, we do look to the federal guidelines because it’s a federal program, so all of our users sign a drug free lease addendum,” says Willa Williford, housing division director for Boulder County. That said, there hasn’t been a marijuana-related eviction in the past three years. Though medical marijuana helps with her pain, Weber says she is willing to give it up to avoid eviction.

“We’ve dealt with this sort of discrimination against medical marijuana patients for years,” says Brian Vicente, lawyer, executive director of Sensible Colorado and chair of the Denver Mayor’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel. “The important thing to know here is these local Section 8 offices have absolute discretion over whether they’re going to enforce that provision of the federal law or not. So it is totally within the control of that office over whether they’re going to boot someone out.”

Two constitutional amendments legalize marijuana, and now it’s up to the federal officials to be reasonable about enforcement, he says, and called Weber’s story “nothing short of tragic.”

At this point, Weber says she’s worried the hearing she has to file a request for by Dec. 19 won’t be delayed while those policies are revisited. The messages she’s heard from the Longmont Housing Authority have changed in the days she’s been on the phone with them, she says, and she’s concerned they might not let her delay the hearing date. Should she lose the voucher, according to the current policies from the Longmont Housing Authority, she’ll be ineligible for a housing voucher for at least three years.

If the timing for the hearing doesn’t work out in her favor and Weber loses her housing voucher, it wouldn’t be the first time she’s just barely missed receiving assistance because of a date, a dollar amount or bureaucratic oversight. The accident that left her a quadriplegic, in need of surgeries and a six-month hospital stay, occurred the month before her father’s new job added insurance benefits that would have covered her medical expenses. Had she worked and paid into Social Security for just a few months longer, she’d qualify for full disability payments. And if she made $.25 less from her Social Security Disability payments, she could draw Social Security Insurance as well.

Although the drunk driver spent three years in jail and Weber was promised restitution, she’s never seen a dime. She says the only time he apologized to her was when she appeared in court to testify at his parole hearing.

But Weber doesn’t seem to be letting any of it drag her down, and is keeping up on stem cell research that could one day help her. She even saved the umbilical cord blood when Collin was born.

Although she is looking to the future, she says she is beating herself up these days over how she dealt with her housing form.

Using medical marijuana edibles has let her reduce her daily dose of Oxycontin to handle the pain and spasms, while not leaving her feeling lethargic or mentally clouded, she says — which means she’s got more attention and energy for her son.

Having just enrolled Collin in preschool, she’s determined to learn how to drive so she can take him to school. She was also looking at taking some classes herself at Front Range Community College, starting a nonprofit for parents with disabilities and creating a book about parenting from a wheelchair. Those projects are on hold until she sorts out where she’ll be living this time next year.

“I was finally getting in a position in my life where I can move forward,” she says. “Every time I try to go forward with something, I’m set back in some way, and I just want to go.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

 

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Fight the HUD law. A New Oleans advocate who could not afford the rent did. SHE WON.  HUD Changelled her first amendment right to speak out for others. All they cared about was she broke some law.

The law making it reasonable to kick off Drug sellerare were changed to be used against tenents. Its immoral.

 Make the HUD people take you to Court-You fight not just for you but for all that HUD Would displace to get their numbers those they help every year higher or what ever reason.  Call for Jan at 719.645.7746

 

i readthe first few lines...then had to leave the story...to painful to continiue

 

Thank you so much for the information! And yes I am going to fight... I thank each and everyone of you individually for all of your support :-)

 

Asley Weber -- CARE, our nonprofit, would love to fight this for you with the best constitutional legal counsel in the state---PLEASE call me at 1-888-eat-hemp or email at Kathleen@cannabis-alliance.org ASAP.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT

So, where's Collin's dad?  Get's a quadriplegic pregnant and leaves the mom and the son!

 

Rob
I'm guessing it was the driver of the car she was in who is probably in jail for the rest of his life

 

Really, she got in a car wreck a decade ago, then had a child with the guy seven years later? And the story says he was in jail for three years. Not the rest of his life

 

Mr. Wondering-- In reference to Collins quote on quote dad? ... Not involved, never was involved, And never will be! I am just another one of the MANY single parents out there. Yes questions will arise about my disability and becoming a single mom post injury... how is that possible? Who would do that? I'll get negative and positive responses, but to sum it up I'm still smart, strong, AND sexy... I just do it from a sitting position now! :-) The driver of the vehicle accident that happened 10 years ago has had nothing to do with me nor offered any help whatsoever. Haven't seen or heard from him...

 

Jan
It should not be just cannibis groups fighting for your rights Ashley. It should be housing groups whose inaction allows -0 zero tolerance OF SOMETHING THAT is "NOT" a crime, to be used against otherwise good people. It is time for Poverty, and housing folks to Join together and wipe out An ABUSIVE System. 719.645.7746 I work with End All Poverty I am at PO Box 63461 Colorado Springs CO.80962

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT

To clarify the first sentence ...
"The last time Ashley Weber turned her head to look to the side, it was to watch the drunk driver walk away from the car that wrecked the truck in which she was a passenger."  

 

I agree you should get past the first sentence... it is an incredible article. Many things in life are sad, but choosing to ignore the sadness in life robs you of the TRUE appreciation feeling of happiness!

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT

So how does this constitution and bill of rights thing work again? The feds have the ultimate power to control the people, while the states have less power to control the people, and the people have no power or say on how they live their lives?

I think the people need to clean the politickers out of every office in the nation and hang them from the lamp posts and take the power of the people from the criminals in office...

 

We as national taxpayers are paying for her housing subsidy. The majority of Americans realize that pot is a drug and should never be legalized. She has a choice, play by the rules-or make your own way. Perhaps if the states want to 'pony up' the finances to house the potheads...let them! Until then live by the federal rules!

 

You Mr. Anonymous are an IDIOT! 50% or more of Americans now view Pot as a drug that can help with the pain and suffering of cancer patients among others. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT or go back into your cave.

 

Ann
To anonymous, If I had a choice between releaving pain with pot or a narcotic I would use pot anytime. Do you realize the damage long term use of hard core drugs will have on a body? Your body gets immune to it and the dosage continues to go up. You can't judge someone elses choices or life style unless you have walked in their shoes.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT

Her biggest mistke was to admit to the federal government that she used it.  Sometimes, honesty is not the best policy.  Because it's not "interfering with the health, safety, or enjoyment of the property by other residents", it's not information she should feel obligated to give in the first place.

All she can do at this point is tell them she quit.

 

What I am going to do about it is fight not quit! I'm going to fight for what is right for me as well as all of the other hundreds of people on housing who use medical marijuana. It was unfortunate that receipts were accidentally with all my medical expenses, but it is what it is and it won't be unfortunate if I get to be the voice. Honesty in this case isn't the best policy... you're absolutely right and that's sad, hiding it shouldn't have be in issue at all. Medical marijuana has been legal for 12 years, The times have changed so it's only right for policies to follow!

 

Ashley--Please get in touch with me as my non profit, CARE, would love to challenge this with the best constitutional attorney in the state at our expense.....1-888-eat-hemp or Kathleen@cannabis-alliance.org---ASAP!!!

 

The rules the HUD people go by should be constitutional. What good does it do anyone if they can by mary jane, but its still ilegal to use it. The people wanted to, and thought they legalize the use of pot. I am delighted two people stood up to Mr. no name. The Housing Authority is breaking the US Constitution by making tenant sign contracts that they forfiet their right to actually Use an alternative pain reliever. I am glad that ashley is fighting for myself-I do not use pot. But the HUD people remove their tenants rights to participate in many activities. As fighting to evict a Black 70 year old lady who fights for the rights of the poor in the Hurricane inflicted state of LA, and has a very limited income so is in low-income rent, for exercising her 1st amentment right by being at a rally. If Ms. Jasper didn't know more facts than most newspapers puts at, she also might have gone alone with the once accused of a wrong and you are rentless. She went to court and fought. And Won. I can not say if she had any lawyer with her, but if I had to gues it was a constitutional one-if she found a free one. If carrying pot is not crimmal, then making its use so is contrary to the will of the people. the referendums passed so pot could be used. If that be the will of the people why should the state or federal housing say different? This is not the America that we were taught about in the 60's and 70's. In that America the will of the people, out ranked the will of the government. In the days of MLK Jr. the news still carried the words of the disenfranchised. Today they do not, except the Boulder Weekly for one. I still think that housing authorities owe due process before they remove benefits. Ashley fights for me, and you. For your constitutional and human rights to use the best pain reliever possible she fights. She fights for your right to speak out. I can be reached at 719.645.7746.

 

 
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