Pot Possession Enough For Child Neglect

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How seriously do parents have to mess up before the state takes their children away? If you live in New York, not much. The New York Times reports on how trace amounts of marijuana — not enough to even charge a parent with a misdemeanor — could be enough to get the state to seize your children.

The Times tells the story of Penelope Harris, who had a third of an ounce of pot in her apartment last year. The long story short is that her son spent a week in foster care and her niece, who was living with her as a foster child, was placed in another home and not returned to her for more than a year. She had no criminal record and had never before been investigated by child welfare but she had to weather a lengthy child neglect inquiry.

She’s not alone. Hundreds of parents didn’t face criminal charges for small amounts of marijuana but got tangled in child neglect cases, up to and including losing custody of their children:

“I felt like less of a parent, like I had failed my children,” Ms. Harris said. “It tore me up.”

New York City’s child welfare agency said that it was pursuing these cases for appropriate reasons, and that marijuana use by parents could often hint at other serious problems in the way they cared for their children.

As states and localities around the country loosen penalties for marijuana, for both recreational and medical uses, they are increasingly grappling with how to handle its presence in homes with children. California, where the medical marijuana movement has flourished, now requires that child welfare officials demonstrate actual harm to a child from marijuana use in order to bring neglect cases, and defense lawyers there say the authorities are now bringing fewer of them.

But in New York, it’s routine for child welfare to take children away from parents who have marijuana. The bureaucrats say that they have good reason for doing this but defense lawyers say that they seize the children, file neglect charges based solely on the marijuana and then search for other issues to bolster their case. The law for neglect does not distinguish between marijuana and other drugs.

And neglect findings can have other repercussions, too:

Neglect findings, while sometimes allowing parents to keep their children, can have serious repercussions. They prohibit parents from taking jobs around children, like driving a school bus or working in day care, or from being foster care parents or adopting. And they make it easier for Family Court judges to later remove children from their homes.

The findings stay on parents’ records with the Statewide Central Register until their youngest child turns 28.

This seems extreme. If a parent’s drug use renders them unfit, that’s one thing. But the trauma of removing a child from his home or orphaning him is not justified by a couple of tokes on a joint.


  1. Abigail

    August 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    I totally disagree with this writer. Pot is illegal. If you’re doing or are in possession of illegal drugs, you deserve to have your children taken away. A child deserves a stable, drug free home to grow up in, and parents who use or abuse recreational drugs often have other issues that cause problems for children. Flat out, if you’re doing drugs, you’re impared and unable to care for your children during that time. You deserve to be punished for criminal activity.

  2. Pingback: Marijuana Is Illegal, And Your Children Should Be More Important Than Your High | Mommyish

  3. diane

    August 19, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    so abigail… if the parents drink every night, even to excess, and smoke cigs in side the house – both legal substances! – this is acceptable to you, and doesn’t ‘deserve’ punishment?

  4. Rebecca

    August 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I’ve got not problem with smoking pot, I’ve even done it myself quite a few times. That said, it is an illegal substance so I would never ever have it in my house, around my children, or on my person at any time. My children are more important to me then getting a buzz and the repercussions of possessing an illegal drug are real and life shattering. So it would be selfish of me to take that risk, and it was selfish of the parents in the article. The real issue is why is it illegal to begin with??

  5. NIKKI

    August 22, 2011 at 9:07 am

    I agree with you diane. The only reason pot is not accepted like worse drugs–alcohol and cigs is b/c the govt. is not collecting on its sale. While I agree its time to put up the ‘toys” when you have children, its time to give up the “legal” substances too. Id like to arrest those people I see smoking in the car with their children strapped up. Abigail is a black and white thinker. Sadly this is what is a downfall of our society…think how I think or you are no good.

  6. jisme

    May 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    So you can drink around your child or abuse pharmaceuticals and that’s ok but not smoke a little pot?! God made that plant for a reason. its not all the chemical based over the counter drugs our country seems to love that are man made. in God we trust right?!

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