Pam Burge smokes pot, but she says it’s not about getting stoned. “I smoke it for pain,” the 67-year-old Vancouver resident told the Georgia Straight, saying marijuana provides her relief from a host of ailments, including chronic body aches, arthritis, and depression.
For her, it’s an absolute bummer that precisely because of this she may lose her home. Burge lives in one of two rental buildings owned by the city at the Olympic Village.
On September 14, tenants saw notices declaring: Cannabis Is Not Cool. The signs were posted by COHO Property Management, a company owned by the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., which runs the properties on contract with the city. The material warns that “verifiable complaints about marijuana smoke disturbing other tenants” will lead to termination of rental agreements with buildings at both 80 and 122 Walter Hardwick Street.
“It’s not as if I’m a pothead,” a stunned Burge said. She recalled that just last spring, Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson joined seven other B.C. mayors to support the regulation and taxation of marijuana. “The fact is the mayor has come out in favour of legalizing it,” Burge said. She also pointed out that the B.C. Compassion Club, of which she is a member, has been operating with a city licence for 15 years and it has never had any problems with the police.
Robertson did not agree to an interview. Thom Armstrong, executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., noted that the anticannabis signs were posted “after discussions with the city”.
“It simply responds to complaints that we’ve received from tenants who are calling the office and saying they’re being bothered by smoke—tobacco and marijuana—that is getting into their units,” Armstrong told the Straight in a phone interview.
The housing federation boss also said that the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Residential Tenancy Branch have issued rulings that landlords and property managers have a duty to protect people from secondhand smoke. Armstrong also pointed out that no tenant in the two city-owned properties on Walter Hardwick Street has presented a Health Canada permit to smoke marijuana for medical reasons.
Although the federal government allowed marijuana use for medical use starting in 2001, it does not license organizations like compassion clubs or cannabis dispensaries. Only Health Canada can legally supply both cannabis seeds and dried marijuana.
As of January 8, 2010, 4,884 persons in Canada were authorized to possess dried marijuana under the medical-access regulations. But even possession of a federal permit to smoke marijuana isn’t a guarantee against eviction.
In 2003, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the Capital Region Housing Corporation in Victoria could kick out Eric Young from the two-bedroom rental home he and his wife occupied. The court decided that although he could legally use pot for his multiple sclerosis, his smoking deprived other tenants of the enjoyment of their suites.
Tom Durning of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre explained that the 2003 ruling laid down the law on marijuana use. “The judge said you can smoke marijuana, but if you’re bothering people, you’re gone,” Durning told the Straight by phone.
Jeet-Kei Leung, a spokesperson with the B.C. Compassion Club Society, explained that cannabis dispensaries have been filling the need for medical marijuana. Although compassion clubs operate without authority from the federal government, members like Burge have verified referrals from their health-care practitioner, Leung noted.
“What the property-management company needs to understand is that a clear distinction has been made between recreational and medical use of cannabis,” Leung told the Straight in a phone interview about the situation at the Olympic Village.
Between June and July, Burge received two letters from COHO advising her that the building owner—the City of Vancouver—is aware of complaints about marijuana and tobacco smoke emanating from her suite.
“We tried more informal methods; we spoke to people and sent notices around and, finally, in conversations with the city, we just decided that we have to be a little more direct,” Armstrong related.
Burge countered that when she was interviewed by a COHO staff member in April 2011 regarding her tenancy application, she was asked if she smoked. “I wasn’t smoking cigarettes when I moved in here,” she recalled. “I said, however, that I do use marijuana as a pain reliever, that I belong to the compassion club, and I have doctors’ notices. And he said, ‘Oh, that’s fine. There’s no problem with that.’ ”