Evicted for Medical Marijuana?

San Luis Obispo New Times | August 12, 2004
In the window of Ellen Levey's federally subsidized apartment, there are 12 little marijuana plants.

On July 13, the San Luis Obispo's Housing Authority started eviction proceedings against the 55-year-old woman because of those plants.

Levey lives in downtown San Luis Obispo's Anderson Hotel along with about 70 other people. They all rely on Section 8 -- a federal program that supplements low-income individuals' rent. Because of those federal funds, the housing authority officials who administer the hotel have to follow federal laws. Including ones that differ from state regulations.

"We see it as a violation of federal law, and therefore a violation of the lease, and we have to take the action that is expected of us," said George Moylan, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of San Luis Obispo.

But Levey, and her friend and self-described caregiver Robert Toth, say California's medical marijuana laws protect her.

In 1996, Californians voted that doctor-approved patients could use and grow marijuana. Last year's Senate Bill 420 clarified that law. It says that patients and their caregivers can, among other things, grow 12 immature or six mature plants.

Since then, federal judges have ruled in favor of state-specific medical marijuana issues but there is still no specific federal legislation or law that condones marijuana usage.

Two years ago, Levey approached her longtime Nipomo doctor -- whom she asked New Times not name for confidentiality reasons -- about using marijuana. She wanted something, she said, more effective than the 12 different pain medications she said she was taking.

Her doctor said yes. In an interview with San Luis Obispo police in 2002, the doctor described Levey as a former alcoholic with terminal liver failure, hepatitis C, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome (a syndrome that slowly paralyzes a patient's nervous system), schizophrenia, and an anxiety disorder. The marijuana, the doctor said, would not have "adverse medical effects" and would help with anxiety and pain problems.

So, with the assistance of Toth, Levey started growing plants in 2002. And the pair quickly ran into trouble.

It wasn't the first time they and housing authority officials butted heads.

Joycie Wulfing is the manager of the Anderson Hotel. Because of the potential eviction litigation, she was unable to comment on her and Levey's past interactions. She would say that Levey's potential eviction is the result of an "unfortunate set of circumstances that have been spearheaded by her in-home support worker more than by herself."

Correspondence between her office and Levey's apartment shows the two women's relationship was sometimes strained as well.

In June of 1999, Wulfing wrote what she called a "final warning." In it, she accused Levey of walking naked through the halls and into other tenants' apartments, of creating a fire hazard, and being in a "condition that disallows normal communication with [Wulfing] and others."

In a Jan. 28, 2004, letter, Wulfing asked her tenant to please stop asking other residents for money, food, and prescription drugs. "You are disrupting the livability of the project. Not to mention preying on others who receive the same or less income than you do," Wulfing wrote.

Levey adamantly denies doing any of that. She and Toth allege the letters were part of an ongoing smear campaign by housing authority officials -- a campaign, they say, that's been going on since before they started growing pot.

Toth argues that the way the Housing Authority discovered the plants in 2002 was a perfect example of that. He and Levey claim that officials looked through Levey's widows and illegally entered the apartment with a passkey.

Apartment Manager Wulfing said she doesn't remember how the Housing Authority discovered the plants. Director Moylan had no firm answer either, and said he was unaware of anyone who would know.

"To be perfectly blunt, I don't know," Moylan said. "One of the reasons that I'm laughing it off is that it's sort of immaterial. If you're in violation of the lease, you're in violation of the lease."

According to the search warrant application that the San Luis Obispo Police Department submitted to a judge before raiding Levey's apartment in 2002, they heard about the marijuana from a tip they received.

During the raid, police arrested Toth after he claimed the plants were his. In June of 2003, he was acquitted of cultivation charges.

Earlier this year they started a new crop, which died from cold weather. Now they have 12 new plants and an eviction notice. Levey said she's ready for whatever happens.

"This is a test case. I am a test case for this county," she said.

Moylan is just as ready.

"If it becomes a national case, so be it," he said. "It's something we feel we have to take action on because of the law and based on the obvious growing of the marijuana."

Levey has a 10-day hearing period to respond to the eviction proposal notice. She said she will not respond and will let the matter go to court in August.

San Luis Obispo New Times

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