State Marijuana Laws Don’t Protect Your Property

NAR Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth presents during the "Medical Marijuana and R.E." session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

NAR Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth presents during the “Medical Marijuana and R.E.” session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

Here’s the thing about marijuana laws: Federal trumps state. So even though 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal pot use — and four states have OK’d recreational use — the federal government still says marijuana is illegal. That means landlords and property managers in legal-pot states shouldn’t feel completely safe allowing tenants to smoke on the premises, NAR Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth said during the “Medical Marijuana and R.E.” session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

“State marijuana laws haven’t been challenged at the Supreme Court yet,” Booth said. “That’s why they stand.”

She pointed out that federal law gives the government the right to seize finances and property that are connected to illegal activity, including drugs. So technically, landlords who let tenants grow weed in their apartments or smoke it on site for any purpose run the risk of having their real estate property taken from them.

The likelihood of that happening seems slim, as public opinion on marijuana shifts toward pro-legalization along with changing state laws. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal, with 52 percent supportive. That’s up from only 12 percent in 1969.

Still, pressure is being applied to the federal government to act in accordance with federal law. “The U.S. has signed on to global treaties classifying marijuana as one of the heaviest controlled substances,” Booth said. “So there’s some outrage that the U.S. isn’t prosecuting marijuana users here as fiercely.” That pressure should signify to landlords and property managers that risk is present when accepting marijuana use on their properties.

As state marijuana laws change, multifamily properties and condos may need to add lease addenda specifically covering marijuana policies on the premises, Booth said. There also may be new disclosures that are required in the future when selling condos in pot-friendly buildings or homes near property that allow marijuana use, she added. For example, since the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use in some states, there has been an increase in reports of explosions in properties where tenants are growing pot with sophisticated equipment. Smoke and odor could also have an impact on neighbors, and mold from the growing of marijuana — which requires a high level of humidity — could become an issue in multifamily buildings. For all those reasons, it may become necessary to disclose to buyers and renters when they are considering a condo or home in or near properties where marijuana use is allowed.

Graham Wood

Graham Wood is a senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at

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  1. Now that marijuana is already legal in some states, the laws regarding its use should complement well upon the users consumption . While many people still continue to debate the different aspects concerning the marijuana legalization for medical use, a growing evidence has emerged that will favor the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Vapes like from are just some good examples how it can benefit users and patients.

  2. Matt Murray

    NYC Police Department stated today (11/10/2014), via Commissioner Ray Kelly, they are only going to fine people possessing small amounts of marijuana rather than arrest them. Para-phrasing: “resources are better spent on more serious offenses.” Even though Fed supersedes Local, I doubt anyone is going to be pursuing it all that hard.

  3. Steve Freeman

    What a conflict. In the completely legal states; a sheriff or state policeman won’t lift a finger to stop someone from smoking weed on rental property; yet it falls to the landlord to police their tenants? Landlords as federal law enforcers – wow. What’s a landlord to do when they “catch” someone smoking weed – hold them until the feds show up and make the arrest? (Not likely-btw) What will be VERY interesting is when a landlord prohibits a tenant from smoking medical cannabis in a state where such use is legal. One cannot prohibit a person from taking approved medicine so this will be a clear-cut case of discrimination. I would like to know if and how the NAR legal teams and efforts will support the landlord? Surely NAR has given this issue some thoughts – I wish they would share them with me. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Federal Govt just got with the program, did the right thing and legalized cannabis for, at minimum, medical use? Life would be easier on so many levels. Find me at CountyRealty if you want to reply to my note.

  4. It is a shame that Florida did not pass Amendment 2. The universal benefits far out way the insecurities of those that have never had a need for medical marijuana or have bothered to research the plant because it has been illegal. I have traveled to several “legal” states and the economic, real estate, education, crime, health and overall environment was amazingly positive. It left me longing for the same progress here in Duval County. Having elderly parents that are currently being fed an endless cocktail of harmful narcotics for the same symptoms that can be treated or eased with medical marijuana makes me wonder who is really in control of our choices. Real estate values have increased in these states. Why not attract more retirees to Florida by giving the elderly a natural choice in medication. Stop the pill mills, crime and violence over narcotic drugs by legalizing medical marijuana. Using the revenues to improve our schools, infrastructure, increase police presence, attract new residents from all over the country to plant their seed in Florida. Jacksonville is set up to be the perfect test city… we have it all, world famous medical institutions, beaches, rivers, a growing downtown, several universities, but need more money to make us a true metropolitan city. Why not turn to medical marijuana?

  5. Average American

    We really need to re-evaluate why Richard Nixon made this substance illegal to start with. The Federal Government should be protecting homeowners rights ! What happened to the “United States of America” ? Is this not a plant the NATIVE AMERICAN INDIANS GREW ON THERE LAND AKA USA BEFORE WE CAME AND DROPPED OUR LAWS ON LADY LIBERTY’S LAP ???? This topic just goes to show the laws that were once there to protect the people are now TURNING ON THE PEOPLE !!!

  6. Yup, even if marijuana is legal under the state laws, the federal government still consider it as an illegal drug. So for medical patients who are taking in this herb, and for businessmen in this industry such as the medical marijuana dispensary owners and growers, they should learn how to lie low and always follow the state laws in order not to attract the attention of the federal government.