For nearly a year Dennis Gulyas, 53, has lived in the Valor House, a residence for homeless veterans operated by the Poverello Center, the Missoula Housing Authority (MHA) and the Veterans Administration (VA). But he won't live there much longer unless he agrees to stop using marijuana to treat his various medical conditions.
Last week, the Valor House sent its residents updated rules of occupancy emphasizing that they can't enjoy the benefits of medical marijuana in the federally funded facility.
"The use of marijuana by a resident is not allowed and any resident using marijuana, regardless of whether you possess a medical marijuana card, will be considered to be a violation of the illicit drug use policy," the new language reads.
The rules say residents have the right to refuse drug testing, but if they do, they will be in violation of the housing contract and considered out of compliance with the Homeless Veterans Program rules.
"I'll lose benefits and I'll be homeless again," says Gulyas, who participates in Montana's Medical Marijuana Program to treat various ailments, including carpal tunnel and chronic back, knee and foot pain that force him to use a walker. He says it also helps his depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and minimizes his use of narcotic painkillers.
MHA Director Lori Davidson says the new language was inserted to adhere to guidelines laid out by the VA, which, along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, funds the Valor House.
"Because marijuana—whether medical or any other—is still illegal under federal law, we are not willing to jeopardize our funding for those programs by allowing medical marijuana," Davidson says.
Gulyas has a few weeks to decide what's more important—his housing or the only medication that makes him feel good.
"Since I've started using [medical marijuana] I don't have nightmares anymore," Gulyas says. "I'm able to cope. I've made a complete turnaround. I was like a vegetable. And I don't have to worry about withdrawals. And probably the worst thing that happens is that I am happy. Finally. That's about the worst side effect, is that I'm happy."