Now that recreational cannabis is legal in Massachusetts, pot lovers are free to smoke wherever they damn well please—or so it would seem. While you may be able to purchase, possess, and even grow cannabis in the comfort of your own home, if you happen to rent or share a condo with other owners, legalization has come with a whole new kind of headache: nosey neighbors.
Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana at the ballot box in 2016, allowing those over 21 to legally purchase and possess marijuana for personal use. The new regulations also allow home grows of six plants per household and up to 12 plants, if there is more than one resident. But those seemingly straightforward regulations have run into some serious complications for tenants.
Some neighborly narcs have even resorted to calling the police, who have responded by telling tenants to take it up with the landlord. According to one report from The Boston Globe, complaints about marijuana smoke from neighbors have been consistent enough for one Wrentham man, Tom Robichaud, to start his own smoke detection company, Discreet Intervention. Robichaud and his stoner-sniffing Belgian Malinois, Ben, are called in by landlords to sniff at doorframes of tenants suspected of hotboxing their apartments.
Landlords have also begun to install smoke detectors specifically targeted at identifying when someone is smoking marijuana in real time. Though these devices, which are usually extensions of wall outlets, can’t detect THC—they were originally designed to detect nicotine—manufacturers claim they can detect other molecules present in cannabis smoke and instantly notify a building’s manager. But for many building managers, it’s not as easy as just evicting tenants who are caught smoking.
The federal ban on cannabis means that, when it comes to public housing, marijuana is banned outright. In a 2011 memo, the Department of Housing and Urban Development addressed the issue directly stating that residents who consume federally banned substances, even if they are legally prescribed within their state, run the risk of being evicted.
In the private housing market, on the other hand, in-unit smoking has become a much more complicated issue. New condo managers have established no smoking rules before their buildings begin accepting tenants. But landlords of older buildings, which have held tenants for years before marijuana was made legal, are caught between cannabis consumers who are no longer breaking the law and their ‘just say no’ neighbors.
In most condos, where renter’s agreements previously allowed smoking, landlords have to take any rule changes to a vote and, in some cases, need the support of at least two-thirds of residents. Some places have been successful in changing their rules, with enough neighbors pissed off at the smell of marijuana smoke coming through their bathroom vents, but others have resorted to adding tobacco smokers to their proposed bans to sweeten the pot.
For some neighbors, the skunky aroma is enough to lodge a complaint while others have claimed concerns with second-hand smoke, increased shared utility bills from neighbors who choose to grow at home, and the possibility of losing insurance coverage because marijuana remains federally illegal.
Landlords who are open to compromise with their cannabis-friendly tenants have suggested that edibles could be a reasonable alternative to smoking, but they likely haven’t taken the intensity of an edible high into consideration. For legal cannabis consumers, it’s a matter of privacy, comfort and the freedom to light up in your own home.