Placing Pot on the Spot: D.C.’s New Marijuana Law Meets Community Associations
By: Yaida Ford and Caroline Vickers
Marijuana use has created several conflicts since its legalization in D.C. on February 26, 2015. Home owner associations and condominium associations have struggled to understand the parameters of the new law and how it impacts their communities. To properly govern the issue of pot smoking, Boards will have to engage in a balancing act between accommodating the new law (maybe) and pacifying angry, anti-cannabis residents.
Under D.C.’s new cannabis law, adults over 21 years old can legally use marijuana on property that they own. However, front yards, stoops and porches are gray areas. Renters of a unit may be able to use unless their lease strictly prohibits marijuana use. Adults can also legally grow up to six marijuana plants at home but can only have 3 mature plants to remain within the confines of the new law. [This article doesn’t cover the entire law, only those portions that are relevant to community associations.]
Condominium associations and HOAs can make their own rules but when there is a conflict with state law, a unit owner may bring a legal challenge. Condo and HOA boards are encouraged to find creative ways to govern depending on the type of community they have. Complaints against pot smoke are highest among communities with shared walls, ceilings, and central ventilation systems. A private smoker can easily disturb other unit owners when marijuana odors penetrate shared areas. Boards can help mitigate issues by requiring marijuana smokers to use weather stripping and air purifiers to minimize seepage.
For an owner who wants to grow plants, this will increase shared electric costs and the risk of theft. Boards should consider creating a special assessment where shared expenses rise due to an owner’s use or cultivation of marijuana. For owners who are leasing their units, Boards can ask for a copy of the lease so they can enforce any restrictions the landlords put on marijuana use. Boards who want to outlaw marijuana smoking completely must consider unit owners who may use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Boards should approach rule making with great care and utilize legal counsel so they can create policies that balance the interests of all community members while keeping in mind that it has the ultimate authority to use its judgment in doing what is best for the community.
D.C. laws have “de-criminalized” marijuana use and possession to give smokers some protections. However, the protections are not limitless. Smokers in condo units should take precaution to avoid smoke seepage that may disturb neighbors and involve the association’s board. Although more HOAs are relaxing restrictions on cannabis use, boards will continue to prioritize safety and shared costs over individual interests.