Too old to be told
Seniors in mobile home park speak out against medical marijuana prohibition
Medical marijuana patients Bob and Margaret Jones have grown familiar with ever-evolving county ordinances and state and federal laws related to the herb. But the couple, both retired professionals, are especially frustrated by pending rule changes at their senior living community that would prohibit its use inside their own home.
The Joneses (not their real name) live in the Casa de Flores Mobile Home Community in north Chico. In early March, they received the 13-page packet of regulations, which take effect in September, from Storz Management Co., an Orangevale-based property management firm that oversees more than 40 mobile and manufactured home communities in the North State. The packet includes guidelines for landscaping, parking, visitor allowances and myriad other things, but the Joneses were most concerned with an item under the “criminal activity” subsection regarding residents’ prescribed standards of conduct.
The rules state that residents and guests shall not engage in criminal actions, including drug activity, on or near the premises, and further read, “This includes an absolute prohibition on possession of marijuana under any circumstances, even if the resident has a medical marijuana card.”
“Never in my life as a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen would I expect anyone to try to regulate what legal activities I engage in in the privacy of my own home,” Margaret said. Noting their senior status and her husband’s service as a Vietnam veteran, she added, “I think most people here are old enough that we don’t need to be told what to do.”
More than 100 Casa de Flores residents attended a community meeting at the mobile home park last Friday (March 18) to express their concerns about the rules. Christina Watts, a senior regional property supervisor for Storz, facilitated the meeting.
Watts explained enforcement of the pot prohibition would be driven by resident complaints rather than managers policing the premises, with the legal eviction process beginning after a tenant received three complaints the management deems valid. But in the case of criminal activity (under which medical marijuana is included), the rules read, “It is understood and agreed that a single violation shall be good cause for termination of the Resident’s rental agreement/lease. Proof of violation shall not require an arrest by law enforcement and/or criminal conviction.”
The purpose of the rules, Watts said repeatedly, is to address problematic tenants and protect residents. At the meeting, tenants grumbled about ongoing issues with drug dealing, theft and trespassing by transients.
When resident Louthea Griffin questioned the medi-pot rule, Watts responded that park management won’t be policing it: “Until your neighbors start complaining about a ton of partiers or pot billowing out of your windows, we don’t care; we’re not going to go around sniffing and wondering if you’re smoking pot in your house.
“I understand people need to smoke marijuana for medical reasons, and I understand people like to smoke marijuana just to get a little goofy every once in a while,” she continued. “But if it becomes a nuisance, we are going to ask you to leave.”
Griffin, who is not a medical marijuana user, was not satisfied. “They say they won’t enforce it, but that’s not what’s written in the rules,” she said later, adding she feared the rule could be used to unfairly target otherwise exemplary tenants.
“Most of the people in this park are elderly and on fixed incomes. If the management company tries to enforce the medical marijuana rule against someone in the park, what recourse would [the tenant] have other than to hire a lawyer?”
Tenants have been given the option to sign a form and voluntarily accept the park rules. Regardless, they will apply to all residents beginning Sept. 1.
Andy Carey, president of Storz Management Co., stands by the medical marijuana prohibition.
“As in other residential rental properties, such as apartment complexes, the enactment and enforcement of rules and regulations in mobile home parks is key to maintaining safe, peaceful and enjoyable living environments for the residents of the community,” he wrote by email. “The prohibition on marijuana in the park rules and regulations was enacted in accordance with law, and is reasonable.”
Carey noted marijuana is still a Schedule I substance federally, and that state law doesn’t limit a landlord’s ability to prohibit it.
“Marijuana smoke (like any other smoke) may be a nuisance to neighbors. Similar to cigarette smoking bans, which are enforced throughout the state and universally recognized as reasonable, the marijuana ban was enacted for the benefit of the entire mobile home park community.”
The only reference to cigarettes in the rules is that smoking is not allowed within 20 feet of recreational facilities, the clubhouse or laundry room.
Robert MacKenzie, a Chico land-use lawyer who’s done extensive work on medical marijuana cases, said Proposition 215 patients like those at Casa de Flores are “stuck in a confusing interplay between state and federal laws.”
“Most tenants at any rental property have something in their lease saying they agree to follow all laws,” he said. “But medicine is an area that generally falls under state’s rights, and in some cases, it’s been successfully argued that federal law shouldn’t apply when it comes to marijuana used as medicine.”
MacKenzie warned that patients caught medicating likely would face a legal battle and that rental laws largely favor landlords. Barring a substantive Supreme Court ruling or state legislation that pushes pot out of the gray area, legal protection is not guaranteed.
“It’s unfortunate, but if they were my clients I’d counsel them to be very careful if they choose to continue using and possessing medical marijuana.”