by Mark Tarses

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215: The Medical Marijuana Initiative, making it legal for people with medical or psychological problems to buy, grow, and use marijuana. Some California cities, including Berkeley and San Francisco, went even further, and effectively decriminalized marijuana completely. There is a lot of misinformation about this subject floating around. Here are some real facts about marijuana laws and tenant liability that you should know.

Myth: California (and several other states) have effectively decriminalized marijuana.

Fact: In June, 2005; the U.S. Surpreme Court ruled that Federal law supercedes all state and local marijuana laws, including California's Proposition 215; and the possession, cultivation, or use of marijuana remains a crime under Federal law.

Myth: Very few people are still being arrested for simple possession of marijuana. Most of the people who get arrested on marijuana charges are growers and dealers. The government isn't interested individual marijuana smokers.

Fact: Lots of people are arrested every day in California on marijuana charges, and almost 90% of those arrests are for simple possession. Only 10% are charged with cultivation, transportation, or sale or marijuana. In 1991, 270,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges. In 2009, marijuana arrests topped 860,000. In California, 16,000 people were arrested in 2009 on felony marijuana charges and another 61,000 were arrested on misdemeanor pot charges.

What every tenant should know about marijuana:

1. Marijuana is still illegal. Federal law is the supreme law of the United States. Cities and states cannot nullify Federal law. (That's what the Civil War was all about folks!) State and local police are required to enforce Federal drug laws, and they do. Thousands of people in California go to jail every year on marijuana charges, including people in Berkeley and San Francisco.

2. Marijuana is not a legal medicine. The F.D.A. (Food & Drug Administration) does not recognize marijuana as a medicine, and their authority supersedes California law.

3. Roommates get arrested too! A lot of tenants think that as long as marijuana is stored and used in their roommate's bedroom, they won't get arrested themselves if there is a bust. Wrong! When the police raid a house or apartment and find illegal drugs, it is standard procedure to arrest everybody, including roommates and house guests. Even if no drugs are found in your bedroom, you will probably be arrested too!

4. A drug arrest is a bad thing! It will show up on your credit report for at least 7 years, and as a result, you may be denied credit, turned down for a job, or rejected for an apartment. If you already have credit cards, they may be canceled.

5. You could owe your landlord a lot of money! When the police raid an apartment looking for drugs, they sometimes do a lot of physical damage to the property. They break down doors, destroy furniture, wreck appliances, and punch holes in walls looking for drugs and drug money. The cost of repairing an apartment after a police drug raid can run into thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. The police do not pay for this damage, and renter's insurance usually won't pay for it either. You and your co-signer will have to pay for the damage.

6. You will lose your student loans and grants! The Higher Education Act of 1998 requires the federal government to deny educational financial assistance to anyone convicted of a drug offense within the previous year. This means that if you are convicted of possession of marijuana, even a tiny amount, you will lose your student loans, your Pell grant, and other government paid or guaranteed financial aid. This law only applies to drug offenses; so people convicted of murder, rape, or sabotaging airplanes can still get student loans and grants. I believe that our country's marijuana laws are irrational, and this is a good example at that.

So don't fool yourself. The "War on Drugs" is not a paper tiger. This tiger has teeth!

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