Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Associated Press reports on recent cases denying custody and/or visitation to a parent making use of medical marijuana:
More than a decade after states began approving marijuana for medical use, its role in custody disputes remains a little-known side effect.
While those laws can protect patients from criminal charges, they typically haven't prevented judges, court commissioners or guardians ad litem from considering a parent's marijuana use in custody matters — even in states such as Washington, where complying patients "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege," according to the law.
Arbiters often side with parents who try to keep their children away from pot. Medical marijuana activists in several states, including Washington, California and Colorado, say they've been getting more inquiries from patients wrapped up in custody-divorce cases in recent years as the ranks of patients who use marijuana swell.
Lauren Payne, legal services coordinator with a California marijuana law reform group called Americans for Safe Access, said that since mid-2006 her organization has received calls about 61 such cases.
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 have held 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."
In that case, the medical marijuana patient, Cameron Wieldraayer, was granted only supervised visits with his two young daughters — a decision upheld by an appeals court.
Many patients insist that using pot makes them no less fit as parents, and that they shouldn't lose custody or visitation rights if there's no evidence they're abusing the drug.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based 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.
Pouch, who grows marijuana in an old chicken coop, smokes a few puffs three or four times every day, and says he doesn't get high the way he did when he used marijuana recreationally in his younger days. He said he uses it to treat pain from carpal tunnel syndrome aggravated by glassblowing, as well as a shoulder that frequently pops out of its socket due to old sports injuries.
"I'm an outgoing, upstanding person. I do three different farmers markets and I'm a member of the Mason County Chamber of Commerce," said Pouch, 37. "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."
Opposing spouses often argue that they have a right to keep their children away from illegal substances, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
With some other medications, such as narcotic painkillers or bipolar medications, judges can require tests to establish how much of the drug a parent has in his or her system, said Eleanor Couto, a family law attorney in Longview, Wash.
But treatment providers can't prescribe specific amounts of marijuana without running afoul of federal law, so it isn't always clear what constitutes an appropriate level of the drug.
"How do you monitor how much someone can smoke?" Couto asked. "How do know they're able to adequately care for that child? I think it's got to be a case-by-case basis."
Seattle lawyer Sharon Blackford noted that urine tests can establish how much marijuana is in a patient's system based on current use, and that monitoring is "as easy to do for medical marijuana as it is for alcohol."
Early this year, a judge who called Washington's medical marijuana law "an absolute joke" and "an excuse to be loaded all the time" ordered that stepfather, Julian Robinson, to keep at least a quarter-mile from the teenagers because of his marijuana use, according to a transcript of the hearing.
That means Robinson can't be around the children he has raised for the past 13 years, even though they live in his home near Castle Rock, with his wife and their four younger children.
Read the full story here.