Arizona: Appellate Court Rules Prenatal Cannabis Exposure Does Not Constitute Child Neglect

Phoenix, AZ: Judges on the Arizona Court of Appeals have determined that child welfare officials acted inappropriately when they placed a woman on state registry for using medical cannabis while pregnant.

Justices unanimously ruled that the prenatal exposure in this case did not constitute “neglect” because the mother was qualified to access medical cannabis under the law. 

The Court determined: “The evidence shows that [the plaintiff] was certified under AMMA [the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] to use marijuana medically to treat chronic nausea. The doctor who certified [the plaintiff’s] eligibility for using medical marijuana knew that she was pregnant. Because the use of marijuana under AMMA ‘must be considered the equivalent of the use of any other medication under the direction of a physician,’ A.R.S. § 36–2813(C), the exposure of [the plaintiff’s] infant to marijuana resulted from medical treatment and did not constitute neglect under A.R.S. § 8–201(25)(c).”

The Appellate Court’s ruling overturns a decision by the state Department of Child Safety’s director and a ruling by a trial court judge.

Last month, members of the Alabama Senate approved legislation requiring women of childbearing age to show proof of a negative pregnancy test before they could apply to obtain medical cannabis. The bill has not been advanced in the House. 

Oklahoma regulators considered imposing a similar requirement on women seeking to obtain medical cannabis, but ultimately repealed the rule. 

Data provides inconsistent results with respect to whether or not prenatal cannabis exposure is associated with adverse neonatal outcomes, such as the risk of preterm birth.

The case is Ridgell v Arizona Department of Public Safety.Additional information is available from the NORML fact sheet, ‘Maternal Marijuana Use and Childhood Outcomes.’