The Maine Supreme Judicial Court denied the appeal of a state-authorized medical marijuana patient evicted from his Fairfield apartment by a landlord who said he was breaking federal law by using and growing marijuana in his apartment.

In its ruling, however, the state’s highest court did not address the larger question of whether federal law — under which marijuana is still an illegal drug whether it is for medical use or not — pre-empts state law, under which adult marijuana use is legal now and which made medical use legal several years ago. The appeal denial stemmed from other violations of the tenant’s lease.

Sherwood Associates evicted Olanian Jackson from Fairfield Family Apartments in 2017. The company, which owned the complex at the time, claimed he had broken his lease, in part, by growing and possessing marijuana in his apartment. A notice from Sherwood to Jackson said he had violated the terms of the lease, which prohibited unlawful activity in the apartment, because “medical marijuana is illegal under federal law even if it is permitted under state law.”

In a court brief contesting his eviction, Jackson argued he did not break the law — or his lease — because marijuana use is legal in Maine. Additionally, he said that because he had a certificate to use marijuana for medical purposes, the landlord was required to accommodate his condition reasonably and that the lease — to the extent it did prohibit the use of marijuana by someone with a valid certificate — violated the United States Housing Act.

Sherwood Associates responded by noting marijuana is a controlled substance and possessing or manufacturing it is a violation of federal law. The firm added that Fairfield Family Apartments is an affordable-housing complex that receives federal funds and is subject to oversight and frequent audits by the federal government and, in the landlord’s view, allowing a tenant to use or possess marijuana in the apartments could expose the landlord to liability and put the firm in noncompliance with federal regulations.

The firm also said he broke the terms of his lease in other ways. In its court filings, Sherwood said Jackson had broken the lease by denying access to his apartment, which the lease specified the landlord was authorized to enter to make repairs and perform inspections. Other violations cited by the company included Jackson installing a lock on his grow room — despite the lease’s prohibition of installing or replacing locks without written consent from apartment management — and by allegedly intimidating staff by leaving a threatening voicemail for one of them and having a sign on his grow room door that said “No one may enter this room! …. Trespassers will be shot! Survivors shot again!”

Jackson, according to court records, said he had allowed his apartment to be inspected, denied threatening employees and said his sign was a joke. He had lived in the apartments since 1997.

It was the violations other than the marijuana-related one that Supreme Court justices cited in upholding lower court decisions that Sherwood legally evicted Jackson. In fact, the court did not address the question of whether federal law pre-empts state law.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, the court stated, “Because these violations, standing alone, justified Sherwood’s termination of the lease and support the District Court’s judgment granting Sherwood possession of the apartment, we need not reach Jackson’s remaining arguments or analyze whether federal law has a preemptive effect on Maine’s medical marijuana laws.”

Jackson was represented in the Supreme Court appeal by Augusta law firm Jim Mitchell and Jed Davis P.A., and Sherwood Associates was represented by Portland law firm Norman, Hanson, Detroy LLC.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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