Marijuana Ignites Skirmishes Between Users, Neighbors

May 13, 2020

As more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use, neighbors who live next to those enjoying their new freedoms are raising fire. Some are taking their neighbors or buildings to court about the stink.

For example, condo owners in Augusta, Maine, have split sides between those who use marijuana to treat medical conditions and those who don’t and say the secondhand smoke is making them sick. The nonsmoking condo owners filed a civil lawsuit in 2018, but a Superior Court judge dismissed it. Now, they’re taking their case to the federal level and have filed a housing discrimination complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Such legal battles are growing across the country in states where marijuana is legal.

Shirley Steinbach, an attorney with Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Md., told The Wall Street Journal that condo boards need to revisit their rules and have clear, written rules regarding marijuana use in their properties.

"Marijuana often is not addressed at all [in condo documents]. It's a nascent issue," Steinbach told The Wall Street Journal. "Now with decriminalization, it's more common to see its use in the open."

Community associations do have the right to ban or limit smoking, including tobacco, marijuana, and e-cigarettes, Steinbach says. But those policies need to be clearly written and communicated in their rules.

The lingering odor from marijuana is what has nearby non-smokers most upset, particularly those who share walls in a condo building.

Companies have started offering odor-mitigation solutions for buildings, such as  charcoal air filtration systems, negative ion generators and electrostatic precipitators, air scrubbers, and more.

“Even smokers themselves don’t want to move into a house with the smell of somebody else’s smoke,” John Manning, a managing broker of RE/MAX on Market in Seattle, told The Wall Street Journal. It’s not just the odor, he adds, explaining that residue from third-hand smoke—both from marijuana and tobacco use—can get embedded in the interior walls, carpets, draperies, and woodwork.

Manning says when his brokerage lists a home by a smoker, they request that the furniture be removed and remediation experts get called in. The remediation experts will prime and paint walls and ceilings, clean or remove carpets and curtains, and scrub light fixtures, woodwork, curtain rods, and fireplace mantels, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"The good news is that it's almost always worthwhile," he adds. "If you don't do it, it's a greater loss [in sale price] than what would have been spent on mitigation efforts."

Homeowners Raise a Stink Over Pot-Smoking Neighbors,” The Wall Street Journal (May 7, 2020) [Log-in required.]