Can you smoke medical marijuana in your “smoking room” at the Hampton Inn?

Hilton is charging Mary Zimmerman a $45 smoking fee because one of her relatives smoked in a hotel room.

Well, of course she did. It was a smoking room.

But, according to the hotel, it wasn’t only that Zimmerman’s relative reserved a smoking room, but what she smoked: medical marijuana. And so begins one of the odder cases we’ve encountered lately, which serves as a warning to anyone who smokes. Watch what you stick in your pipe. It could cost you.

An unidentified charge on Zimmerman’s credit card from the Hampton Inn in Lincoln, Ill., appeared mysteriously a few days after she and her family had checked out. Zimmerman immediately contacted both the hotel and Hilton, Hampton Inn’s parent company, to dispute it.

Receiving unsympathetic replies and denials of a refund from both of those sources, Zimmerman contacted our advocates for help. She told us of her conversation with an employee at the front desk of the hotel.

“The actual hotel manager has never called me back although I’ve called twice to talk to her,” she told us. “No response. No explanation of the charge except from their desk clerk. She was very rude.”

The paper trail she sent us also included the initial email response from Hilton customer care. Their response stated they were “unable to waive or offer a refund for the charges in question. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”

To our advocate, this looked like a simple case of a smoking fee that was assessed either mistakenly or arbitrarily to a hotel guest. We frequently resolve similar cases for travelers who write to us on our website.

Simple, we thought, until we read Zimmerman’s response to Hilton. That’s when the case took an interesting and unexpected turn. In her appeal of Hilton’s denial, Zimmerman wrote:

One of our family members has fibromyalgia and has a medical marijuana license, legal in the state of Illinois. The smoking room was for that family member’s use.

The Lincoln, Ill., Hampton Inn has no reason to charge $45 for a smoking room. It’s not so much that it’s $45, it’s that it’s morally wrong. We rented a smoking room. That’s what a smoking room is for.

Our advocate realized that this wasn’t a smoking charge case. This was a case about the rapidly changing and diverse laws regarding medical marijuana and how those laws will inevitably affect the hospitality industry, and are doing so right now.

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Zimmerman’s situation presents an interesting conundrum. Medical marijuana use has been legally approved by 29 states and the District of Columbia. Illinois is among those states.

However, marijuana, regardless of its use, is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA) enacted in 1970.

The seemingly diametrical opposition of state and federal laws about marijuana has been the subject of pages of legal opinions, and numerous legislative actions. To make matters worse, the laws currently on the books are vastly different across the states in which medical marijuana has been legalized.

Further research by our advocates failed to locate any published case law that addressed the specific issue of smoking medical marijuana in a hotel room designated as a “smoking room.” This seems to put Zimmerman, licensed medical marijuana patients and the hospitality industry in a virtually unexplored and unknown territory.

We specifically reviewed the State of Illinois’ Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, and contacted the Lincoln Police Department. Neither provided any rule or ordinance that prohibited smoking medical marijuana in a room designated for smoking.

The law in Illinois does prohibit smoking marijuana, medical or otherwise, “knowingly in close proximity to anyone under the age of 18.” This could preclude hotel smoking, depending on its interpretation. But this is only an assumption and doesn’t resolve the larger issue of how to create policies for a multistate business that takes into account the developing laws throughout our country.

A local hotel representative referred our questions to the Hilton advice team, a group that is available to the properties for questions and issues. The team “[does] not provide legal advice, and [does not] have specific direction to the properties within the brand, as it is a state-to-state issue.”

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They did say this:

  1. Due to the fact that marijuana (medical or not) is still illegal under federal law, the ADA does not recognize it. Therefore we can ask for an individual’s license to carry/use.
  2. We can also prohibit smoking of any kind (including for medical) in guest rooms, as it is federally an illegal substance.

The representative told our advocate:

Many states that allow medicinal use dictate that it can only be consumed in a private residence. Others mandate it can only be consumed in private (that one is more open ended). We are consulting an attorney regarding more specific Illinois law, however there really is no case law yet to give clear direction.

At this time we are and will charge a fee up to $250 (our typical smoking fee) for getting the room back to normal rentable use.

While this appears to resolve the question in this specific case, other questions remain unresolved. Things like: What about other hotel guests in the vicinity? What about children being exposed to secondhand smoke through the ventilation system? It’s undoubtedly going to take rooms full of corporate and government lawyers to answer these questions, along with a host of other questions that have not been considered.

While we were continuing to gather information in this matter, we received an email from Zimmerman informing us that she had received a credit of $45 to her credit card from Hampton Inn.

The number of cases similar to Zimmerman’s is destined to increase. We don’t know the answers, and Hilton leaves the answers up to the discretion of the management of its various brands. But we definitively know that even if you are legally registered and prescribed medical marijuana at this particular property, and choose to light up, you’re going to be hit with a smoking fee, and you may want to advise the front desk before you start smoking.

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One last thing: when asked about Zimmerman’s chargeback, the representative was very clear,

“We are not refunding the charge for the cleaning. When we receive the dispute we will file the appropriate paperwork and [the smoking charge will] be recharged to her.”

It looks like Zimmerman’s $45 is going up in smoke.

Should licensed medical marijuana patients be allowed to smoke in their hotel rooms?

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Chip Hiebler

Chip enjoyed a successful career in the IT field. Now he’s retired and splits his time between experiencing destinations and cultures beyond his home in Baltimore and generally having fun. He currently supports the mission of as the co-director of the research department.

  • Chris Johnson

    Just cancel the credit card before the hotel can recharge the $45 smoking charge. Problem solved.

  • Rebecca

    It doesn’t work like that. They can force post it to the old account.

  • RightNow9435

    Good suggestion, as the hotel does advertise a “smoking room”. While they do have to right to restrict what kinds of “smoking” is allowed in the room, it should be clearly stated beforehand to the guest when they book the room or at check-in if medical marijuana is prohibited.

  • Lloyd Johnston

    How about this, after you smoke the medical marijuana, light up a cheap stinky cigar to mask the marijuana smell? Don’t necessarily need to smoke it, just let it burn.

  • Bill___A

    Smoking a federally banned substance is not permissible in this instance. The smoking fee should have been a lot higher and should not have been refunded. If one has questions about such things, the time to ask is before you do it, not after.

  • RightNow9435

    It said it was a “smoking room”, so if they wanted to put restrictions on the smoking(which management has a right to do), it should have been mentioned beforehand by the desk clerk at check-in, as medical marijuana is a legal substance in the state of Illinois

  • y_p_w

    I guess it would be up to the individual hotel to set its own policy. I understand many will only consider cigarettes and perhaps vaping to be considered “smoking”. It wouldn’t be unusual for a place to disallow cigars because the odor is considerably different.

  • Lindabator

    again – NOT a federally legal substance – if they wanted to smoke it, they should have confirmed there would not be a problem

  • RightNow9435

    That’s the issue….as they can set whatever policy they want…..but the policy should be clearly spelled out(no cigars, no marijuana,etc)in advance upon check-in, so there is no mis-interpretation. Such as when a hotel allows a “small pet”. What exactly is “small”? Definitely something to be settled when checking in and not when checking out.

  • Lloyd Johnston

    Exactly. My Labrador Retriever is small (for a lab), but would not likely be considered a small dog by any provider. Now if you say, dog under 15 kg, now we have a policy that can be enforced without any room for judgement calls. I personally would set the public policy in that case to less than 15 kg but Internal-Only documents, not to be revealed, would say something like 19 kg or less to make it look like the clerk is “letting it go this time for a valued customer”.

    For the smoking room, I would spell out what is accepted, in a very simple list. eg Guests in smoking rooms may smoke cigarettes, pipes, or vaping, Marijuana, medical or otherwise, and/or cigars are not allowed.

  • RightNow9435

    Exactly! Had the Hampton Inn spelled it out that way, this whole situation would not have happened.


    What I am most surprised at here is that Hampton Inn still has smoking rooms.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Not only is this terrible advice, it doesn’t work that way. Yes, you can cancel the card before the charge is reposted, but if the chargeback is upheld, you will still be liable for the charge.

  • finance_tony

    What if they were smoking crack? Though I disagree with current laws, pot is just as illegal.

  • Bill___A

    Generally, permitting “smoking” means “permitting tobacco smoke only” – and in many cases, from cigarettes only – and prohibiting smoking means prohibiting smoking anything (and prohibiting vaping). It is not a legal substance in the state of Illinois or any other state, it is as mentioned in another comment, a federally illegal substance.

  • Bill___A

    Not being allowed to smoke “pot” is already spelled out in federal law…

  • Annie M

    Hopefully the hotel will post a sign at the front desk but this wouldn’t be seen booking on the website.

    This is an interesting case and one that hotels that still have smoking rooms in states where medical marijuana is legal need to address.

    She’s lucky it was only $45. What does this woman do when she stays in a hotel
    that doesn’t have smoking rooms? Does she smoke in her car?

  • RightNow9435

    not an issue, since no state has made crack legal

  • RightNow9435

    Much as the “illegality” of medical marijuana is open to interpretation(note the almost even split in the poll), so is the term “smoking”, as many people would assume “smoking” allows pipes, cigars, and vaping. Which leads to the real crox of the matter–was proper notice given to the customer? In this case, it appears not.

  • RightNow9435

    Very true re “only $45”, as from previous situations, it appears smoking charges seem to be a cash cow for hotels.

  • Michael__K

    Interesting, because I experienced the opposite problem several years ago.

    I reserved a non-smoking room on vacation for my family. When we arrived, the room had a terrible stench of marijuana.
    We eventually determined the smoke was actively coming into the room from the ventilation duct. We complained to the front desk, and they said they already had other complaints and were aware of the problem and couldn’t prevent it, because the guests who were producing the stench had medical marijuana cards.
    I pointed out that this was supposed to be the non-smoking wing of the hotel, and that I had small children, but the manager claimed they can’t prevent guests from using medical marijuana, even in a non-smoking room.
    They offered an air filter which wasn’t very helpful. Only solution was to move to another room in the non-smoking wing which was far enough way and didn’t get the stench.

  • Bill___A

    I have no doubt that pot is illegal in the USA. Although it is true they are refraining from enforcement in some of these rogue states,the law is still there, still valid, and not struck down. The customer did not seek permission to smoke pot and as mentioned, it is a federally banned substance so a hotel should not have to clarify this. The customer is in the wrong here. I don’t see where the confusion and debate is here.

  • RightNow9435

    The confusion/debate is not over the legality(which will not be settled here) of medical marijuana, but whether the hotel should have had a sign stating that certain kinds of smoking(medical marijuana,cigars, e-cigarettes, pipes, etc) were not allowed, even if it was a smoking room. Had such a sign, or wording on a piece of paper to be initialed(common at many front desks), existed, this situation would never have happened.

  • Alan Gore

    If the substance and usage is legal in the state where the property is located, this isn’t the problem. It’s more that marijuana is such a pungent smell that no other person, even a smoker, is going to want that room after MJ has been smoked in it.

  • Randy Culpepper

    Smoking room or not, the odor left by marijuana is a far cry from cigarettes. Not to mention the fact that patients are not limited to smoking–there are numerous ways to consume marijuana.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If an American hotel tried to have a policy of 15 kg or 19 kg, there wouldn’t be a problem because virtually no Americans would have any idea how much weight that is.

  • Kairho

    ..but permitted under some state laws.

  • DChamp56

    I said yes, only because if there’s a distinction between smoking one thing vs another, it should be mentioned/posted somewhere.

  • Bill___A

    There is….in federal law. It is a prohibited substance.

  • Bill___A

    I hope you wrote a review about the totally unacceptable situation at this hotel. No smoking means no smoking.

  • Bill___A

    State laws to not supercede federal laws. The federal government is merely accommodating this at the moment. However, a hotel should not be required to post information about everything that’s already prohibited by law.

  • Bill___A

    Well, they didn’t have a sign permitting it either, now, did they…..

  • pauletteb

    What part of “federally illegal substance” is open to interpretation? And prescriptions for medical marijuana are as easy to get as phony certificates for “emotional support” animals.

  • pauletteb

    Dirty socks and Fritos!

  • wilcoxon

    I absolutely disagree. This was an Illinois hotel and the guest was legally licensed to smoke marijuana in Illinois. The hotel did not (as far as we can tell) disclose in any way that smoking medical marijuana was disallowed (or any other smoking restrictions). There should have been absolutely no issue (smoking room, legally licensed following Illinois law, etc).

  • wilcoxon

    But medical marijuana IS legal in Illinois.

  • wilcoxon

    Except the Illinois law says it is not as long as you have a prescription/license. The federal government has not attempted to shoot down any of the medical marijuana laws so they still stand. As this property was in Illinois and the guest was following Illinois law, you’re logic is deeply flawed.

  • wilcoxon

    And? Unless/until the feds strike down the state law, it is the law of the land in Illinois. Therefore, the hotel must follow it. Otherwise, they are in violation of state law (and could likely be sued under it).

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