Smoke some weed, lose your kids

That’s the situation for some parents in NYC, at least, where The New York Times reports that the child-welfare system has become “an alternate system of justice” for people who possess miniscule amounts of marijuana:

The police found about 10 grams of marijuana, or about a third of an ounce, when they searched Penelope Harris’s apartment in the Bronx last year. The amount was below the legal threshold for even a misdemeanor, and prosecutors declined to charge her. But Ms. Harris, a mother whose son and niece were home when she was briefly in custody, could hardly rest easy.

The police had reported her arrest to the state’s child welfare hot line, and city caseworkers quickly arrived and took the children away.

Her son, then 10, spent more than a week in foster care. Her niece, who was 8 and living with her as a foster child, was placed in another home and not returned by the foster care agency for more than a year. Ms. Harris, 31, had to weather a lengthy child neglect inquiry, though she had no criminal record and had never before been investigated by the child welfare authorities, Ms. Harris and her lawyer said.

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

Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges, according to city records and defense lawyers. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.

[…]

Michael Fagan, a spokesman for the Administration for Children’s Services, said the defense lawyers were offering a simplistic portrayal of these cases.

“Drug use itself is not child abuse or neglect, but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse,” Mr. Fagan said. “We think the argument that use of cocaine, heroin or marijuana by a parent of young children should not be looked into or should simply be ignored is just plain wrong.”

Mr. Fagan said most of the cases involved additional forms of neglect, like a child who is not going to school or who has been left unattended.

“In other times, we find that admitted marijuana use masks other substance abuse,” Mr. Fagan said.

But lawyers for parents countered that the agency often brought neglect charges based solely on recreational marijuana use, then searched later for other grounds to bolster cases.

“In some cases, there are other allegations, but we think they are add-ons,” said Susan Jacobs, executive director of the Center for Family Representation, which works in Manhattan and Queens. “The reason the person is being brought into Family Court is the marijuana use.”

A parent’s chronic drug use (no pun intended) may be grounds for government intervention, but this story combines two of my least favorite things: overzealous action by the state, and paranoia about the demon weed.

(hat tip: @MikeRiggs)

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