There are so many things wrong with what has happened to Lea Olivier that it's going to take some unpacking to understand it all. Before I get to that, let me stack up two or three presumptions about where I'm coming from.
First, the law is the law. Right? We live in a country of laws and we don't get to pick which ones we obey. But what if one law conflicts with its opposite? What happens then?
Second, moving from one home to another is hard. Physically hard. I know. I've done it twice in the past eight years and I'll think for a long time before I do it again because unless you are financially able to pay someone to do all the packing, it is exhausting.
I was 69 last time I did all myself. Lea Olivier is 18 years older than that. Here's what's happened to her.
Olivier has a physician-approved medical marijuana card. She smokes the drug to help control arthritis pain but since Amendment 64 passed in Colorado, she doesn't really need the card because it is legal now for adults to purchase and use cannabis there.
Well, it's legal unless you live in federally subsidized housing and because Olivier does, that means the federal government can bigfoot Colorado law and Ms. Olivier. She isn't the first, explains reporter Jim Mimiaga in the Cortez Journal, only
”...the latest victim. She has lived there for five years but says she has been ordered to vacate her rent-subsidized apartment on Central Avenue for allegedly violating the illegal-substances policy.
“'A compliance officer said they smelled pot coming from my residence,' she says. 'I don’t think it was even me...'
“Olivier, who lives alone, is now faced with finding alternative housing, but is concerned she cannot afford it on her fixed Social Security income.”
Smelling pot coming from a residence seems like flimsy evidence for eviction but federally subsidized renters are also subject to “annual inspections of apartments,” according to the newspaper.
[Imagine! Federal authorities can search your apartment once a year for drugs just because it is subsidized. I had no idea that happens. Apparently if you are poor, you are automatically suspected of being a drug user.]
And the federal rules about pot smoking in these apartments are a farce:
Olivier said property managers instruct residents to leave the boundaries of the apartment complex if they want to consume marijuana...
“'They told us to go beyond a certain gate, or leave in our car and go somewhere else, but we cannot keep anything in our car if it is parked on their property,' Olivier said. 'It is ridiculous...'”
Terri Wheeler, who is the executive director of Housing Authority of Montezuma County in Colorado, admits there is a big problem with conflicting marijuana laws:
“There is an appeal process for residents who are found to be violating drug laws. While regulations are strictly enforced, they are administered with a practical approach based on circumstances.
“'We’re not cold about it, warnings have been given for marijuana...' Wheeler said. 'We know there are valid medical uses for marijuana, but we have to comply with HUD regulations or we lose our subsidies for people who need housing assistance.'”
How about a “practical approach based on circumstances” of legal use and, in this case, age?
Are we sure that we want to be throwing an 87-year-old elder out of her home because she smokes a doobie or two? Even if the federal government doesn't legally approve, her state does.
I am fully aware that the law is not always fairly enforced but doesn't it seem egregiously awful that zillionaire criminal bankers, for example, walk free after impoverishing millions of Americans (many elders included) while the same government is now throwing an old woman out of her home?
Throwing her out for something so minor that it is invisible compared to what those rich bankers did?
Lea Olivier sounds like a woman who is accustomed to looking out for herself:
“I’ll live in a tent, or my car if I have to,” she said. “I’ve got 10 days to move, but when I get knocked down I get back up.”
She shouldn't be forced to do that.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Trudi Kappel: The Psychology of Paint