Ashley Weber is a quadriplegic who lives with her young son, Collin, in a house whose rent she can afford due to a Section 8 housing voucher courtesy of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. But in December 2012, after revealing that she uses medical marijuana for pain management, the Longmont Housing Authority sent her a termination notice. Since then, Weber's been fighting this edict, and after a year of struggle, the LHA has informed her she can stay due to a new policy she inspired. Photos, video and details below. Weber tells her own story on an Indiegogo fundraising page she launched after receiving the LHA letter. Here's how she describes the accident that changed her life.
I was injured in a rollover car accident in December of 2002 due to a drunk driver. I was 18 years old at the time, and was finishing up the 1st semester of my 2nd year in college. I had just graduated from high school in May of 2002, and would've graduated with my Associates of Science in May 2003. I was ahead in the game of life as far as education and experience to pursue the career I wanted in the medical field.
I ended up breaking C1, C4, C5, and exploding C6. Almost getting the chance to be in a ground breaking clinical trial over in Israel, I was no longer a candidate due to the fracture of C-1. After about a 10 hour surgery I was left with plates and screws from C-3 to T1, with anterior and posterior incisions, as well as one on my hip where the doctors had to take bone to make a new C-6 vertebrae (that had exploded). Transition from ICU at St. Anthony Hospital to Craig Hospital was hard, I knew I had so much to still yet overcome. I called Craig Hospital 'home' after the course of a 6 month long stay. In that 6 months i acquired spinal cord fluid leak (where the scf accumulated into pockets at the base of my brain stem causing infinite amount of pain), hyper-calciumia twice (blood stream being poisoned by calcium seeping from my bones, usually caused by sudden loss of movement in an active person), gallbladder and appendix removed at the same time.
Despite the damage done to her in the crash, Weber persevered, with help in recent years from medical marijuana, which she uses in concert with her overall pain management regimen.
As a licensed patient and cannabis advocate, Weber saw nothing wrong with including MMJ-related payment records among medical receipts she was required to submit for renewal of the federal housing voucher. But while medical marijuana use was legal in Colorado at the time of the 2012 filing, it's still prohibited by the feds. That was the reason for the termination letter, which references "the illegal use of a controlled substance in accordance with federal law, LHA Administrative policy and HUD regulations." Moreover, the letter goes on, "LHA has reasonable cause to believe you are using marijuana, which is still an illegal controlled substance under federal law."
After receiving this notice, Weber began telling her story publicly, and an article in the Boulder Weekly about her plight caught the eye of lawyer Jeff Gard, who is both a longtime defender of marijuana causes and a man with experience taking on public-housing regulations on behalf of the disabled.
"In 1995, my former business partner and I set the precedent for reasonable accommodations in public housing for the disabled in a case called Roe v. Boulder Housing Authority," Gard notes. "That case established that the housing authority had to attempt reasonable accommodation of the disabled before they attempted to evict, to the extent that there was a nexus between the disability and the reason for the eviction."
To Gard, Weber's case, which he handled pro bono, was very similar. "She's disabled, and she uses medical marijuana to accommodate her disability -- and she's not impacting anybody else," he points out. "So I thought they should let her in under the reasonable accommodation law."
In an effort to press this point, Gard tried a number of strategies, including working with pro-marijuana-reform legislators such as Boulder's Jared Polis and Oregon's Earl Blumenauer on new federal legislation. A bill was proposed, but it didn't get far.
Fortunately, his meeting with Helen Kanovsky, general counsel for HUD, proved more successful. The department had issued a policy memorandum in 2011 arguing that medical marijuana couldn't be considered a reasonable accommodation when it came to federal housing. But Gard says she told him HUD would allow individual housing authorities to make their own policies in regard to medical marijuana, and confirmed with another official that funding wouldn't be cut for an agency that did so.
With this information in hand, Gard says he began huddling with David Herrera, attorney for the Longmont Housing Authority, to find a compromise. And in recent weeks, the LHA sent him a letter "saying they had amended their policy to take these things on a case-by-case basis," he points out. "The crux of it is that if you're doing something involving a controlled substance that's going to endanger other residents, like dealing meth out of your house, they can still act against you. But if what you're doing in the privacy of your own home isn't impacting residents generally, they have the right to act at their own discretion."
Gard has done some research, and he believes the LHA rules tweak "is the first policy of its kind anywhere in the country" -- and one he hopes it will become a national model. In his view, "it's a very good, common-sense approach, and also good because it gives them flexibility as the law in this area evolves."
As for Weber, Gard says "she's ecstatic" that she'll be allowed to stay in her home. "She was so nervous and so scared and so worried, because she doesn't have anywhere else to turn. Without public benefits, she can't live independently. She'd have to live in some kind of Medicaid-type facility, and if she was institutionalized, she didn't know if she'd still be able to take care of her son. So she couldn't be happier."
...as well as this X-ray....
...and a second one....
...showing the hardware installed by the doctors who saved her life.
Next, another photo of Ashley and Collin....
...and the video they made for the Indiegogo campaign:
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More from our Marijuana archive circa January 28: "DISH's firing of paralyzed medical marijuana patient heading to state supreme court."