Marijuana users were relieved when California voters passed Proposition 64 in the November 8, 2016, elections. The law legalized recreational marijuana delivery and use in the state. However, there is a growing concern that authorities will infringe the civil rights of marijuana users. Some of the risk areas include parenting, gun ownership, driving, and employment. A recent report by Brooke Edwards Staggs provides more insights on the potential effects of the new law on cannabis-using parents. Proposition 64 has a new protection for parents that restricts courts from rescinding the custodial rights of parents who use medical marijuana. Cannabis-using parents should feel safe under the new law but their experience before the passage of Proposition 64 proves otherwise.
State agencies may interfere with custodial rights because they still have the discretion to grant or deny cannabis-using parents custody of their children. The new law is a not concern to state officials because they only intervene when marijuana use leads to child neglect. The state officials require evidence that a parent under medical marijuana cannot take care of his or her child. The officials may also intervene when it is obvious that a cannabis-using parent will neglect his children. Michael Weston who is a spokesperson for the California Department of Social Services notes that the state interferes in drug cases where there is proof that drug activity or inactivity is a threat to a child’s safety.
Weston notes further that state officials investigate if a child can access the drugs and if the parent is too incapacitated to take care of the child. However, experiences from parents prove otherwise. Staggs includes the case of 31-year-old Nathaniel Rudd who is a California resident in his report. Nathaniel claims that the state denied him custodian rights of his newborn son last year. The officials denied him custody because he admitted that he was using medical marijuana. Nathaniel had been involved in a car accident and his doctor recommended medical marijuana to relieve the pain. The state officials told Nathaniel that he was cognitively incapable of raising the newborn. The social workers did not give him any chance to prove that he could take care of his child.
The social workers handling Nathaniel’s case did not have any proof of substance abuse and its potential effects on the newborn. Nathaniel offered to quit using medical marijuana despite his pain and undergo regular testing but his offer was insufficient to reverse the family court system’s decision. Nathaniel case is proof that the state can infringe the rights of California residents who buy marijuana for medical or recreational use even after voters legalized both uses. Staggs notes that the problem lies with state officials and not the new law. The attitudes of social workers who enforce the law will determine the experience of cannabis-using parents. The parents may abide by the law and even do more than required to get custody of their children. However, the cannabis-using parents are still at the mercy of the court system and child protection services.
Staggs notes further that some state officials treat cannabis like heroin instead of treating it like a prescription drug or alcohol. Hence, they recommend a child be moved from a home for any marijuana use including medical use. A co-parent fighting for custody of a child or a neighbor who needs a favor from the child protection services can exploit the prejudice. California courts may be changing their perception of medical marijuana. Staggs cites the case of a medical marijuana patient who had lost custody of his son in 2012. The Family Court overturned the decision and considered the requirements imposed on him by the court as an abuse of discretion.
The passage of Proposition 64 may not have any impact on pending custody cases. Lawyers and advocates argue that social workers consider the context of each case to make custody decisions. Cannabis-using parents have to wait for the outcome of future court cases to know how the family court system will interpret the new law. The plight of parents using recreational marijuana may be worse. Marijuana laws can change overnight, as was the case in the last election. However, the attitudes towards the drug will take a long time to change. Cannabis rights advocates should prepare for a long-term battle, especially for the rights of cannabis-using parents.