Monday, June 21, 2010

Medical Marijuana Costs Parents In Child Custody Disputes

While medical marijuana laws protect patients from some criminal charges, it seems that some patients have been deemed inadequate parents based solely on their marijuana use, even without evidence of drug abuse. 

Unfortunately, this can result in loss of custody and even visitation rights of their children. Americans for Safe Access has reported that since mid-2006, they have received calls about 61 such cases. Judges and court councils have seemed to overlook medical patients who use marijuana responsibly, and have labeled all users as unfit parents. 

In Colorado last month, an appeals court ruled that medical marijuana use is not necessarily a reason to restrict a parent's visitation. Washington courts say otherwise:
"The court cannot countenance a situation where a person is using marijuana, under the influence of marijuana, and is caring for children," an Island County, Wash., judge ordered in one such dispute. "There's nothing in the medical marijuana law that deprives the court of its responsibility and legal authority to provide for proper care of children so that people aren't caring for children who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs."
Nicholas Pouch, a Washington medical marijuana patient, grows cannabis in an old chicken coop on his organic farm. He uses it to treat pain from carpal tunnel syndrome and old sports injuries. Acting on a tip from his former partner, a drug task force raided his grow operation in 2007. Even though Pouch's criminal charges were dropped, his partner cited the arrest and his marijuana use to win full custody of their 9 and 11 year old boys. For the past two and a half years, Pouch has seen the boys twice a month during supervised visits.
"There's no reason anybody should have to go through this..." Pouch said. "...I am not an activist at all, but I have the right to use this. It aids my pain, and it allows me to function in my everyday activities where pills and opiates don't."
Some patients need medical marijuana to provide better care for their children. Jacqueline Patterson, featured in the documentary: "In Pot We Trust", is a widowed mother of four children. She also suffers from cerebral palsy, which causes a severe stutter. When she uses medical marijuana to relieve muscle tension, her speech dramatically improves. Cannabis actually enables her to be a better mother to her four kids.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, two of the 14 states with medical marijuana laws - Michigan and Maine - specify that patients won't lose custody or visitation rights unless the patient's actions endanger the child or are contrary to the child's best interests. All medical marijuana laws need to include protecting parents' rights to save families from splitting apart. 

The children that are caught in these messy custody-divorce cases are just another causality  of the war on drugs.