One of the policy areas in greatest need of reform involves the typical response of our child custody system in this country when they learn that a parent smokes marijuana; in all states today, including those that have legalized marijuana either for medical use or for all adults, the child custody agency stubbornly maintains an unfair bias against parents who smoke marijuana.
I suspect most of us have personally witnessed the disruption to someone’s life that results when, for any of a number of possible reasons, a parent’s marijuana smoking becomes known to the state’s child welfare agency. Sometimes it is because the couple are going through a hostile separation or divorce, and one parent attempts to use the other’s use of marijuana to gain advantage, either to limit that parent’s access to the children or to get a more favorable financial arrangement. Other times it begins with the complaint of a nosy neighbor who claims to have smelled marijuana (or to have seen someone smoking it), and who calls the authorities.
Regardless of the origin of the complaint or the motivation of the complaintant, once the state’s child welfare agency is called into the dispute, a legal process is begun that will all too often be disruptive to the health and welfare of the child, the very opposite of the stated intent of the inquiry. It is also an expensive and heartbreaking experience to a parent or parents who have to hire lawyers and focus their life for months on end jumping through any number of legal hoops to demonstrate that, despite their marijuana smoking, they remain loving parents who provide a safe and healthy environment for their minor children.
To understand this awkward legal squeeze all too many parents find themselves facing, it is important to realize we have parallel legal systems in effect in these states: one deals with what conduct is or is not criminal; the other focuses only on what is in the best interests of the child. And even as we continue to make progress removing the responsible use of marijuana from the criminal code, either for medical use or for all adults, the child custody courts in those same states continue to begin any inquiry with the presumption that marijuana smokers are not fit parents, and marijuana smoking by adults, even when it is protected conduct under that state’s laws, is dangerous to any children and evidence of an unhealthy environment in which to raise a child.