New Jersey Court – Cannabis Use Alone Not Sufficient To Remove Child

   

I have met countless parents who have had to go through the heartache of having their child removed from their home due to cannabis alone. These people were good parents, and often were licensed medical marijuana patients. They worked hard and provided for their child or children. The only reason that their families were ripped apart was because the parents either used cannabis for medical purposes,  or chose to consume recreational cannabis instead of a more harmful substance like alcohol.

This was the case for one mother in New Jersey. Fortunately for her and her child, a New Jersey court ruled that the removal of her child for cannabis alone was wrong. Per Lady Bud:

Two days before Christmas, an appellate court in New Jersey gave one Garden state mother the best possible gift; a panel headed by Honorable Carmen Alvarez ruled that not only were verbal admissions about possible cannabis use insufficient evidence for an emergency removal order of an infant child but that the state failed to provide any evidence that simply using cannabis constituted child abuse or neglect. While at first glance, this simply appears to be a case of the courts using common sense, in reality it is a major departure from the common practices of the family court system that have existed for decades.

The unnamed 18-year-old mother (R.W.), who became the defendant in this case, was arrested for a violation of her parole in March of 2011. Shortly thereafter, she and her daughter were placed in the state’s Capable Adolescent Mothers (CAM) Program. R.W. naively believed that speaking honestly with the CAM worker was the best way to handle the situation, and she allegedly admitted to cannabis use while caring for her daughter. This was passed along the chain of command, and an emergency order for R.W.’s daughter’s removal was issued.

That story is one that plays out regularly across the nation. Because there are no national reporting requirements for child welfare agencies, it is impossible to know exactly how many children are removed from parental custody solely for cannabis, but anecdotal information indicates that they represent a not insignificant percentage of children removed from their homes. Thankfully, in this case, R.W. decided she was going to fight for her daughter. Even more thankfully, her appeal landed in front of a reasonable panel.

I get the fact that a child’s safety needs to always be considered, and that sometimes it is better for a child to be removed form a home instead of being left in an unsafe situation. However, that should only occur if there is clear abuse. Cannabis consumption alone is no reason to turn a child’s life upside down. There are a lot of responsible parents out there that choose to use marijuana rather than alcohol or pharmaceuticals, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.