The use of medical marijuana in long-term care facilities has been the subject of increased attention nationally after an October 27 New York Times article explored the issue. (http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/medical-marijuana-raises-tough-questions-in-nursing-homes/) The issue raises many legal questions and the answers are not clear.
The main legal question is whether residents of long-term care facilities have the right to use medical marijuana. Of course, residents must have a valid recommendation for the marijuana from a physician before they may possess or use marijuana under state law. However, such possession or use continues to violate federal law.
On the side of resident’s rights, neither state nor federal law allow nursing homes or assisted living facilities to evict a resident for using medical marijuana. Evictions are limited to a narrow set of reasons and using medical marijuana or even violating federal law is not among them. A facility may evict a resident who poses a threat to the health or safety of other residents or facility staff members, so medical marijuana users should ensure their use is not harming the people around them.
Residents who use medical marijuana consistent with California law are likely insulated from action by law enforcement. Local police are prohibited by state law from arresting or fining a legal user while federal agencies are usually focused on the cooperatives that supply medical marijuana as opposed to individual users. Action by the federal government seems especially unlikely at this time because the Department of Justice has renounced raids on legal suppliers of medical marijuana and pressure by the Senate Special Committee on Aging on the DEA to enable nursing home residents easier access to pain relief medications.
All things considered, residents of long-term care facilities probably have the right under state law to use medical marijuana. However, issues remain, including how residents store their medicine and whether nursing homes are vulnerable to losing federal reimbursement from Medicare or Medi-Cal for allowing residents to use medical marijuana.