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American Bar Association Webinar Notes – “Pot, Parenting, and Government Intervention”

by merlin on May 18th, 2015
  • Sumo

ABA CLE – Pot, Parenting, and Government Intervention

Webinar – May 18, 2015


Quick Review of Materials

Though Georgia makes medical cannabis legal in July, still illegal now

Mississippi decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana


Emma Ketteringham – Director, Family Practice (The Bronx Defenders)

South Carolina, Texas, a few others – prenatal exposure is AUTOMATICALLY neglect

·         Laws coalesced in 1980s with “crack baby” media (now understood to have been scientifically unsound)

·         Promoted 2 ideas: mothers using illegal drugs cause children born disadvantaged and harmed, and second idea is that said children more likely to engage in illegal activities as adults

·         CAPTA and ASFA

·         National racial disparity – black people 4x more likely to be arrested for it;

Zip code increases likelihood of birth testing

Black women are 10x more likely to be tested for illegal drugs at birth (even though white women shown to use in greater proportions during pregnancy)

·         Higher number of NICU screenings done on infants from black mothers (FACT)

Has looked at a “harm reduction” approach; every step aimed at REDUCING the harm or risk of harm to the child is positive; experts who talk about THAT approach over an “abstinence-only” approach


·         Again, pot decriminalized in small amounts in NY

·         Few cases filed based solely on parents’ use of marijuana; usually (like others) it is alongside other allegations (ex. mental health)

·         Cases filed for fathers’ failure to stop mothers from smoking during pregnancy!

·         How it is treated is not uniform among judges – some have no problem, but some require a clean test before unsupervised visits allowed

o   Drug MISUSE is the harm that can be prosecuted;

o   If parent is already voluntarily in treatment program, State must prove actual harm or risk of harm

o   NY Court of Appeals (highest court) held that MORE THAN positive test at birth required for negligence

There IS A LIST MAINTAINED of parents that have had issues related to marijuana use.


Kathryn Wells – Denver Health Clinic at the Family Crisis Center

Topical marijuana application – non-psychoactive

Drug Testing – specific to clinical area

·         Amino acid tested for

·         A false positive is rare; GCMS or LCMS is follow-up that is necessary then after a false positive

·         There is also a “sweat patch test”; wear it for a period of time and it collects evidence over time

·         Infants: If positive, test meconium (the thick, tarry stool that is shortly after birth)

·         A positive test CAN ONLY SHOW RECENT USE (7-10 days in an average user), not current use

·         Secondhand use is probably not going to show up unless it is STRONG EXPOSURE (positive test generally ONLY from direct use)

Colorado law passed that protects mother from prosecution by disclosure during pregnancy; they want full disclosure!!!!

·         Studies done that show that it is CRITICAL to keep mother together with baby where possible.  Is the child ACTUALLY at risk???

o   Allowing a PRESUMPTION of harm does more harm than use alone does

·         Only 3 longitudinal studies made (old; conflicting results) – consistently showed long-term impact on behavior from prenatal exposure

·         Effects may not appear until adolescence


·         Breastfeeding will give THC to the baby

·         Caregiver Impairment – can affect child’s own brain growth

·         To understand issue better:

o   What was it prescribed FOR?

o   Ex. marinol prescribed to treat appetite disorders for a while

o   Cannabidiol is HIGH CBG (so does not have the same psychoactivity as cannabis)

o   None of the formal medical organizations (ex. AMA, American Psychiatric Association, etc.) endorse legalization and actively oppose use as medicine by smoking

·         Other than marinol, cannot foresee recommending cannabis-based medication to pregnant woman (as other medications address the issues she might have)

·         Marijuana smoke, according to her, has the same KIND of danger as cigarette smoke for lung cancer

·         Breast milk = FULL OF LIPIDS (marijuana likes lipids), so clean urine screen does not mean no marijuana in system


Jennie Laird – Commissioner, King County Superior Court

1.      Parental rights/time – “Not to be restricted”

2.      Can use the use to restrict, though – secondary effects of use can cause negligence

3.      Ex. long term use caused impairment that negatively impacts

·         Recreational marijuana law – over 21, can possess less than 1 OZ; no public use

o   Medical Cannabis use:          requires extensive conditions (incl. other treatments previously tried; not JUST medical marijuana card)

·         Generally sees marijuana used with other substances;

·         Issue is when marijuana is used to the extent that the parent is rendered unable to capably parent the child

·         Also an issue when marijuana is trafficked out of the home (police intervention, constant traffic, etc.)

o   It testing frequent or is it 1-time (1-time doesn’t tell a lot)?

o   Impact of use by parents on children?

o   Does use bleed into abuse (when it’s legal in the State)?

o   Attorneys should be MINDFUL that reality of the recommendations versus the ABILITY OF THE PARENTS to comply causes issues

·         Disproportionately seem to be families of color and families that are struggling (it is who is doing the reporting, it seems)

·         Alternatives to “Abstinence-Only”:

o   Treatment recommendations; not ALWAYS abstinence-only

o   Ongoing urine testing that shows DECLINING THC levels


Christopher Henderson – Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center

In CO, use alone IS NOT A BAR to returning the child!

·         Edibles have become a huge issue in CO, because kids ingest unknowingly (think they are candy), take them to school, etc.

·         As a GAL, biggest issue he faces is kids taking it unknowingly.

o   Considers the home environment; do children have access to it; are they providing the necessities; what about emotional availability and parental responsibilities?

Treat marijuana use as merely one factor among other parenting factors (ex. mental health, employment, etc.)

·         Associated problems – huge increase in home robberies, etc., b/c $ can’t be deposited so $ kept in the home;

Problem of in-home cultivation

He has found that the judges are far more open to allowing some recreational use than the Department is (knee-jerk reaction).




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