NY Parents Threatened With Losing Custody for Smoking Pot

Gavel and marijuana. Concept about drug vs justice.
By Andrew Leonatti on September 17, 2019 8:51 AM

The march of medicinal and recreational marijuana continues across the country. Voters continue to say that governments and law enforcement should stop the reefer madness and create a regulated, taxed industry that will benefit everyone.

At the very least, many states that do not have legal medicinal or recreational weed have decriminalized the possession of small to moderate amounts of weed. Not ruining someone’s life for smoking a joint also benefits everyone.

One of those states with marijuana decriminalization is New York. But that hasn’t stopped investigators and administrators with the state’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) from dragging parents into family court for admitting to marijuana usage.

Terrifying Stories for Parents

Two attorneys who work for the Bronx Defenders, a legal aid organization, tell the terrifying story of a client who thought it was safe to admit to an ACS investigator that she used marijuana because her children were healthy and marijuana was decriminalized.

ACS saw differently, however, charging her with child neglect and forcing her to enter a daily drug treatment program (for marijuana) to maintain custody of her children. Compliance also forced her to quit two part-time jobs.

In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, the legislation did not account for family court proceedings. In fact, there was an increase in child welfare cases involving parental drug usage after legalization went into effect.

When Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana, that legislation contained language that banned marijuana usage by parents from being the primary or sole basis for loss of custody and other child welfare investigations. New York lawmakers included similar language in this year’s legalization bill that failed to pass.

What Does This Mean?

Many parents in states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana usage may not be aware that there could still be family court consequences for marijuana usage.   

But unless there is specific language in your state’s laws barring marijuana usage from causing a loss of custody, judges, prosecutors, and child services departments are likely able to take whatever actions they deem necessary. Even in a state where marijuana is decriminalized, a family court judge who was not in favor of the change in the law may take it upon themselves to “hold parents accountable.”

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