This Elderly Woman's Heartbreaking Story Proves America's Marijuana Laws Are Broken

The news: Weed may be legal in the state of Colorado, but federal laws are as strict as ever. Lea Olivier, an 87-year-old Dolores resident, found that out the hard way when she was evicted from her rent-subsidized apartment after a compliance officer claimed neighbors had smelled weed, citing United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations against illicit drug use.

While the Durango Herald reports that Olivier may be temporarily stuck without housing, the local housing authority argues their hands are bound by federal law, following the letter of the HUD laws.

What's more, Olivier isn't even sure it was her marijuana that neighbors reported — the smell could have been coming from anywhere in the apartment complex. Since Colorado legalized marijuana, six residents have been evicted from Montezuma County's 393 low-income apartments for violating a nationwide ban on weed use or possession in housing complexes that receive federal funding.

This sucks. Olivier told the Herald that her licenced medical marijuana treats chronic pain and that she originally switched to smoking weed as a healthier alternative to alcohol. Essentially, an elderly woman is being punished for seeking relief via a plant a 2013 Gallup poll found 58% of Americans believe should be totally legal.

While residents had been instructed that marijuana was not allowed on premises and habitual users had been given the benefit of an appeals process, the bottom line is that law-abiding marijuana smokers living in subsidized housing could be in trouble. There is a zero-tolerance policy with no exceptions. The Durango Herald noted that someone like Olivier would essentially have no options but to defy the rules, since smoking marijuana in public remains illegal in Colorado.

In most cases, the feds have announced that they will not intervene in states that choose to pursue their own marijuana policies so long as they do not affect other states. But since there's really nothing stopping federal authorities from intervening but the discretion of the Obama administration, state and local agencies are in the unfortunate position of having to pick and choose which federal regulations to comply with.

Why you should care: Senators from Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized marijuana, recently petitioned the White House for official clarification on what the feds will and won't do regarding weed. But thanks to continued opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, such changes are unlikely to happen. Most experts believe a massive federal shift on marijuana could be decades away.

In the meantime, that means even states that legalize marijuana will encounter countless hassles designed as obstacles to reform. And it means that people like Olivier will still find themselves the victims of a cruel and illogical war on weed that most people agree doesn't make any sense.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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