A Nova Scotia man was recently evicted for smoking and vaping medicinal cannabis in his smoke-free building. Now, he’s taking his fight to the province’s Supreme Court.
Philip Bennett, a 57-year-old who uses medicinal cannabis and a motorized wheelchair, was left homeless after his eviction on Friday, according to CTV News. Bennett suffers from a genetic disorder that has impeded on his ability to walk long distances, the CBC reported. With nowhere to go, Bennett said he had to sleep outside his building in the rain, with a garbage bag over his head.
The incident highlights the difficulties faced by medical cannabis users post-legalization.
Bennett fought multiple times for the right to smoke his medical cannabis with the provincial Residential Tenancies Board and Small Claims Court, but lost, and has now decided to take it to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
According to The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia, landlords must have proper reason and sufficient notice to evict a tenant, one of which includes “bad behaviour”—being disruptive to other tenants or interfering with their experience living in their unit.
Bennett told CTV News that using cannabis for medicinal purposes should be an exception. “If it was recreational marijuana, I’d respect their rights—I wouldn't smoke it in that building.” He is currently staying in a motel with money from members of Dartmouth’s medical cannabis community, CTV reported.
It wasn’t until last year that other residents in the building started to complain. Tammy Wohler, Bennett's lawyer, told the CBC. “It’s the duty of the landlord to accommodate Mr. Bennett's disability. In this case the way to accommodate him would be to simply allow him to smoke or vape it on his balcony.”
"They're saying he can use medical cannabis as long as he uses the oil," she said, "But isn't that kind of like telling me, 'Yes, I can have my service dog, but only if it's, say, a poodle because people have allergies?'"
Craig Arsenault, lawyer for the company which owns Bennett’s former building, Eternity Developments, did not respond to VICE for comment for this story.
“The complaints of several tenants, health related concerns (especially for the youth in the building), and Mr. Bennett's continued failure to follow the house rules all contributed to the decision to proceed with the eviction,” Arsenault wrote in a statement to CTV.
The stench that often comes from smoking weed is still frowned upon by many. A survey by BuzzFeed News found that 57 percent of Canadians either dislike or hate the smell of weed in public. VICE previously reported that for landlords and tenants, it’s a complicated issue. Ontario landlords cannot retroactively include a ban on smoking weed on active leases.
The integral issue with Bennett’s case, however, lies in finding the balance between tenants’ rights to comfort in their own home and an individual’s right to their prescribed medicine.
Medical cannabis issues in condos can be based in stigma, ableism
Cannabis and tenants’ rights lawyer Caryma S’ad this case could hold influence for other cases in Nova Scotia.
“We have bodily autonomy and the right to medicate, as we see fit, as deemed appropriate by medical professionals. Anything interfering with that right better have a very strong and compelling reason,” she said.
“It really can amount to being discriminated against on the basis of disability.”
For instance, folks who have any sort of disability may be unable to go to a public space each time they need to consume cannabis, or for someone on the verge of a seizure, they need to consume their medicinal cannabis as soon as possible.
“If you’re choosing between having a roof over your head or consuming your medicine...it puts people in a tricky spot,” S’ad said.
Michael Verbora, the chief medical officer for Aleafia Health, a medical cannabis-focused company, said that when a disabled person asks to use medicinal cannabis authorized by a physician “that should be respected in some form.”
No more black-and-white policies
Many point to vapourizers as an immediate fix for the reportedly skunk-like smell of weed, and Verbora said this alternative could have been used to avoid Bennett’s difficult circumstances. Vaping is more economically efficient, gives a better high, and is said to be healthier.
Verbora said policies should not use a black-and-white lens when it comes to cannabis use. “A lot of these things are just blanket policies,—potentially discriminatory to medical patients," he said.
Sometimes, landlords might look at filtration of the building, how the smell permeates through the units, for example, S’ad said. “So a good starting point is to speak with the landlord and request accommodations.”
But S’ad said policymakers might have diverging views. "Some might say,'You could choose to live elsewhere so it’s not really fair to other residents if you allow it,'” she said. “And others who would say, ‘We have to prioritize this individual’s medical needs.’”
But vaping doesn’t fix cannabis accessibility issues for everyone—Verbora said he’s working on another case which involves a nursing home that refuses to provide cannabis oil to one of its patients. “These policies are still out there,” he said. “They just need to be brought up to speed.”
“Listen to people. Don’t have such black-and-white policies. Be grey about it,” Verbora said. “There’s solutions to these problems, potentially, without such dramatic consequences.”
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