An In-Depth Story of Secondhand Pot Smoke Exposure


I’m a 41-year old woman who is a former naval officer and Annapolis graduate. I’ve been living on Social Security Disability the past two years.  I’m also a disabled combat veteran, hundred-percent service connected  One of the disabilities I deal with is something that is called multiple chemical sensitivity disability. 

In August 2017 marijuana smoking by my neighbors got out of control where I currently reside.  I live in the middle of a triplex unit and share walls and a roof with two other units.  When they smoke marijuana, the vapors come into my unit and make me deathly ill.  I called the fire department, and they told me it was a police issue.  The fire department did confirm that buildings do breathe and vapors do travel. The secondhand smoke from marijuana fumes—the molecules which you can’t see that travel in the air—is a silent poison. I have to stuff towels under my door and keep my windows shut. I also have two hospital-grade HEPA air filters that I paid 800 a piece for, but they don’t stop the effects from the marijuana vapors.  

Smoking marijuana in multi-dwelling units doesn’t work in any type of unit that shares a wall and a roof, such as apartments, condos, town homes, etc.  If a neighbor smokes marijuana, some people will get sick from that exposure over time.  If they have pre-existing medical conditions, I believe it will aggravate those medical conditions. 

Since the marijuana exposure from my neighbors started, I have been dealing with chronic lower pelvic floor pain, and my new urogynecologyist thinks I have something that’s called chronic bladder syndrome.  When my neighbors are smoking marijuana, which I can instantly smell in my unit, I get nauseated immediately and get extreme pain in my bladder and pelvic floor area/lower abdominal arena.  My gastrointestinal stuff is upside down as well.  

When my neighbors run out of pot and are not smoking it, I start to feel better and my bladder doesn’t hurt and the gastrointestinal symptoms start to dissipate as well.  

I have taken my landlord to small claims court and the judge ruled in my favor because it’s a no-smoking property. But my landlord still didn’t tell my neighbors to stop smoking the marijuana.  My landlord is a retired financial attorney who lives in La Jolla and owns and manages real estate now. He told the judge that the no-smoking policy in the lease applies to not smoking tobacco and said that he views marijuana smoking to be different.

The judge didn’t view it that way and ruled in my favor since it’s a no-smoking property in the lease.  My landlord still has not paid me the $2,500 that he was fined by the judge and the $75 for the court fee.  He appealed the case to the Superior Court, where he won.

My neighbors claim they smoke pot to help them with their medical problems.  I asked them to switch to the edible forms of  marijuana such as the oils or candies and chocolates that you can eat, but they said they like to smoke it instead.  You can’t rationalize with drug users.

I have been on the University of San Diego’s campus in the evening, and there’s a problem there now with marijuana.  I could smell the stuff all over the campus as I was walking from the library back to my vehicle.  

They are handing out marijuana for free here in the beach areas. Folks are already using it in their cars and in open areas.  Just take a stroll down the sidewalks in some of the beach areas, and you’ll see how fast it’s gotten out of control.  

I’ve moved 35 times because of my chemical sensitivity and am not able to move again right now.  I moved closer to the beach because my lungs and health do better here. Also, I live here right now in the Pacific beach vicinity because it’s much closer to the VA La Jolla Hospital.  

In 2015/2016, I lived on a 15-acre horse ranch in northeast Escondido near Valley Center.  When other tenants started smoking marijuana out there, I had to talk to the owner. He then informed the tenants that it was a no-smoking property and to stop or move.  The owner’s nephew moved off the property.

I then moved to a house in the college area, but had to leave that house because of a mold problem and changes in my finances resulting from my only having disability income.  When I was in that house in the college area, I had to talk to my neighbors who lived next to me because the adult son was using marijuana.  The retired Navy Senior Chief was very understanding and told his son to never smoke it anywhere in the neighborhood or on his property again or he wouldn’t have a place to live.  

It’s very difficult to find properties that I can live in.  I get sick from units that have been recently painted, and owners usually redecorate rental units before they rent them to a new tenant. I have to find a unit that is still occupied and tell them not to paint prior to my moving in.  The unit also cannot have any carpet because I get very sick from carpets and have a hard time with most carpets because of the chemicals they use to clean them with.  It also depends on what the previous tenants did when they lived in the unit. If they smoked, burned essential oils, or used heavy chemical cleaners, the residue saturates the walls, believe it or not.  In some places that have used air fresheners for years the fragrant chemicals saturate the walls and it takes months to air it out.  [Alison Johnson’s note: I have a relative who purchased a used car that had a slight fragrance odor and that slight odor still persists after a dozen years.]

My income is limited right now since I’m on Social Security Disability, so I can’t afford the single-dwelling units.  Those types of cottages do exist along the coast from North Pacific Beach up to Encinitas. They’re just really difficult to find; it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.  It took over six months of looking to find the place I’m in now, which is all tile and there are only five units on this property.  The more units there are, the more challenges I have with the fragrant chemical products and other chemical products. When I was working full time, I used to get sick from the colognes and perfumes that people wore at work.  

My family isn’t able to help.  My parents have a laundry list of health problems themselves, and they live in the Mojave desert, which is too far from my medical appointments.  My sister is a graduate of West Point and an active duty Major in the Army. She lives in Louisiana with her family, but I’m not able to stay with them.  My brother, who is a Major in the Marine Corps, lives in North Carolina with his family, but I’m not able to stay with them.   

I’m in a situation where I feel like I am stuck and there is no solution.  I had planned on going back to school full time in a graduate program at the University of San Diego and then returning to the workforce.  I need a place to live where I am not being poisoned every day and getting sicker because of marijuana vapors.

I’ve been told to find a job that allows me to telecommute and work from home because of my chemical sensitivity disabilities. Well, what if I can’t even live in my own home on which I am paying rent?  I had to get an Airbnb rental for a while, but I no longer have the financial means to do that because I’m still paying rent on my triplex unit where I am sick from the pot smoke from my neighbors on either side.

Due to the chronic pain that started before Christmas, I had to hire a part-time caregiver to help me with driving to my appointments.  Uber and Lyft are a gamble, depending on whether they use air fresheners in their vehicles.  Sometimes riding the bus causes more medical problems because folks that get on the bus sometimes reek of tobacco smoke, drugs, and marijuana smoke and I have to immediately get off the bus.  

I cannot continue with having a part-time caregiver because I don’t have the money. The VA doesn’t authorize things like this for veterans. It’s a crazy situation. I’m too sick now to try to find another place to live because of what has happened with the constant exposure to the marijuana fumes. I’m not able to drive long distances due to the chronic pain I experience.  I can only handle about driving a half mile right now. I walk to the supermarket, which is three blocks away, and walk to CVS, which is three blocks away as well.  

Back in November I started looking at other properties to live in that fit my requirements and were no-smoking properties. Earlier this month I went back to visit the properties in the evenings and discovered that the tenants were smoking marijuana. 

This marijuana situation is out of control. It doesn’t work in multi-dwelling units. I need immediate help and don’t know where to go to get it. I’m not able to live in my own unit and am being poisoned by the marijuana vapors that come into my unit.