Medical Marijuana Users Face Child Custody Issues

  • The taboo nature of marijuana as a drug has an influence on the perception of its medical use.
  • Courts can and have ruled against parents in custody cases for their use of medical marijuana.
  • Legislation and some court rulings are beginning to rule in favor of medical marijuana's use not being held against a parent facing health issues during a custody case.

"The cultural stigma within society has made medical marijuana’s use for medical purposes be seen with skepticism as to the validity of the medical condition that would warrant that type of treatment."

In court, the fight for custody of a child can create the tensest of environments, leaving co-parents scrambling to find any little bit of information that can help their case for their attorneys. For some, this includes bringing up medical conditions that may impact a parent’s ability to care for and provide for the child in question. Other times, it is the medicine that the parent chooses to employ, that is considered to be more damaging to a custody case, than the medical condition itself.

For those that use medical marijuana to combat difficult symptoms of larger illnesses, such glaucoma or cancer, they can find themselves in a precarious position that many do not fully understand. This is mostly due to the fact that much of the taboo nature of medical marijuana is surrounded by both recreational marijuana’s illegal status and the social stigma surrounding its general use.

These taboos and stigmas can have a negative impact on divorce proceedings and even in a custody case. Many attorneys can spin this as substance abuse, which can endanger a child and create living conditions that can prevent a child from flourishing. Furthermore, defending these types of mischaracterizations through providing evidence of the scientific and medical benefits of medical marijuana can derail the main argument over custody.

The data

In terms of marijuana as a medical resource, the studies are more recent than many forms of medicine, so approval and legislation has yet to catch up to many of the demonstrated findings of how it can ease many of the symptoms of major illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved or recognized the marijuana plant as medicine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

This is due to the fact that the FDA requires clinical trials in hundreds to thousands of human subjects to determine the benefits and risks of a possible medication. Most of the research that has been done by the FDA is in regards to cannabinoids, chemicals related to related to the main ingredient in the “high” of marijuana.

The two types of cannabinoids, THC and CBD are subject to the most medical analysis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC can increase appetite, reduce nausea, decrease pain, decrease inflammation, and reduce muscle control problems. CBD can reduce inflammation, reduce pain, control epileptic seizures, and allegedly help treat mental illness and addiction.

This line of treatment for the symptoms of these illnesses has many years before the legislation catches up with science behind the medicine. Additionally, the cultural stigma within society has made medical marijuana’s use for medical purposes be seen with skepticism as to the validity of the medical condition that would warrant that type of treatment.

Because of that level of skepticism, individuals can be influenced to question whether or not the use is recreational or medical. This also can have a negative impact on your custody case, if it is shown or proven that you engaged in using medical marijuana for outside purposes.

Cordell & Cordell understands the concerns men face during divorce.

The cases

There are many cases that are highlighted in recent years where a parent’s medical marijuana use has influenced the outcome of a child custody decision. CBS News highlighted the story of Nicholas Pouch, a father and an organic farmer in the state of Washington, who is forced to spend time with his children in a neutral house in Olympia because of his arrest and medical marijuana use.

He was arrested in 2007, after the police were tipped off that he was growing the plant. The criminal charges were later dropped, but his co-parent cited the arrest and marijuana use, in order to gain full custody of their children. Even in states like Washington where the law states that complying patients shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, court commissioners, judges, and guardians ad litem all have factored in medical marijuana use in custody decisions.

An Island County, Washington judge went so far as to say that the court cannot support a situation where a person is using marijuana, or under the influence of marijuana and is caring for children.

However, not all courts feel that way. An appeals court in Colorado ruled that medical marijuana use is not necessarily a reason to restrict a parent’s visitation, according to CBS News.

Michigan and Maine’s medical marijuana laws specify that patients won’t lose visitation rights or custody unless the patient’s actions endanger the child or are contrary to the child’s best interests, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

However, it is not just with divorced or separated couples that this affects. Couples who are together also can lose their children, because of their own medical marijuana use. CNN highlighted a couple, who are both prescribed users of medical marijuana and had their child taken from them and placed into foster care. The mother was prescribed for anxiety and depression and the father was prescribed for chronic pain and anxiety.

There is some research backing up part of the stigma. CNN reported data from the department of social welfare at UCLA that suggested a small increase in child poisonings among medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal. There also is early data that links medical marijuana use and an increase in physical abuse and corporal punishment. However, there is no actual neglect occurring.

Perception and practice

Part of the issue that many in society have with medicine use, in general is the idea of not being in the right headspace or not being in control of your facilities. Not being able to think clearly is a real fear for many individuals. For medical marijuana, it not only faces the stigma of being an illegal product being made legal only for medical use, but also carrying a social stigma from a culture that looks down on it and those who use it for any reason.

While we, at Men’s Divorce, refuse to endorse any product that can be used for illegal, harmful or damaging purposes, there is a level of understanding for the growing research and data that can identify medical marijuana’s healing properties. While a parent would hopefully never wish to endanger their child by engaging in activities that would put their care secondary to any form of substance abuse, their health and wellness needs to be maintained, in order to ensure their future and the best future possible for their child.

Part of the custody process is creating the narrative that it is in the best interest of your child for you, as their parent, to be a part of their life, and part of that is being at your best. A parent does not always find themselves at their best, dealing with chronic and challenging health conditions. While many may morally object to the use of medical marijuana, it is ultimately up to those in legislative positions, whether the option to use the substance to ease medical symptoms, is an option worth exploring for consenting adult patients.

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