Parents Lose Custody of Kids For Minor Marijuana Charges


Getting caught with a small amount of marijuana shouldn’t result in a life-changing ordeal.  But, for many New York parents who have been found with minimal amounts of marijuana, or in some cases merely admitted to using it, these events have resulted in civil child neglect cases.  Some have even lost custody of their children.

As you read this, bear in mind: according to New York state law, possession of as much as 25 grams of marijuana is a violation similar to a traffic offense.

According to the New York Times, lawyers say that they routinely defend parents who have never been previously accused of neglect, but whose children have nevertheless been placed in foster care.  The parents face little or no criminal charges, but they are being punished in what is arguably a more random and cruel fashion.

In California, where medical marijuana is legal, this wouldn’t happen.  There, child welfare agents are required to demonstrate actual harm to the child because of marijuana use in order to bring neglect cases.  The result?  Fewer cases.

New York seems to be opposite, where black and Latino parents are being hit hardest by child neglect cases; lawyers say that these cases are rarely brought against white parents.  Marijuana is used twice as often by whites than blacks or Latinos.  It is the most popular illicit drug in New York City, and lawyers who defend parents say that the vast majority of their cases deal with marijuana, rather than other drugs.

Proponents of the child neglect cases argued that often, admitted marijuana use masks other forms of substance abuse.  But the parents’ defenders alleged that in many cases, cases are brought because of marijuana use, and then prosecutors search for more substantial evidence of neglect.

To be classified as “neglected,” a child must have a parent who “repeatedly misuses” a drug.  But New York law does not distinguish between marijuana or heroin, and it also does not define “misuse.”  Parents don’t even need to be caught in the act.  If they mention recreational marijuana use in passing to a coworker, that can be grounds for a neglect case.

Even if “neglectful” parents are permitted to retain custody of their children, the finding is still very serious.  The NYT explains that neglect findings “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.”

A violation for which prosecutors might not even press charges can, thus, drastically alter the trajectory of a parent’s life, not to speak of their children.  These cases are just one more reason to differentiate marijuana from other drugs and to make sure that parents aren’t losing their children for a misdemeanor equivalent to a traffic violation.

Related Stories:

Florida Teen Dies in Jail After Being Arrested for Marijuana

New Jersey Moves Ahead With Medical Marijuana Program

U.S. Government Declares Marijuana Has No Medical Value

Photo from The Equinest via flickr.


Christina Carlson

It never fails to amaze and horrify me when I learn of child endangerment, abuse and neglect. To equate sometime-use of pot with those who would truly harm or neglect a child is irresponsible and to remove a child from a loving home is criminal. There are too many children in real need to waste the time and resources spent on this persecution of cannabis users!

Kathryn Terhune Cotton

Ummm, recreational use of marijuana = crack addict? I think not. Odd how one family can't literally beat, maim and starve there child to death before any action is taken (oh, yeah, right, they weren't stoned!), but someone who smokes a join once in awhile is an unfit parent? I think they need some real extenuating circumstances to justify that one! Unless they were driving around with the kids in the car while they were high as a kite, or so loaded they forgot to pick the kids up from school or to go to the grocery store for a week, Otherwise, for a parent who just smokes and occasional joint, removing the children from loving parents? Now that is child abuse!

Guy Kimble
Guy Kimble6 years ago

Crazy to be even happening. New York needs to revisit the laws they have in place.

Yvette S.
Past Member 6 years ago

In this over large world of absolutely negligent parents to obsess over parents using recreational pot is ridiculous. And placing these kids in foster care is criminal.

Raya B.
Raya B6 years ago


Clare E.
Clare Canfield6 years ago

This is insane. Using marijuana is not child neglect, it shouldn't even be illegal. This is just insane.

Suzy F.
Suzy F6 years ago

New York must stop this insane practice. I applaud Bernie Sanders (and yes, Ron Paul) for pushing the Legalize Marijuana issue again.

End Prohibition.

It didn't work for alcohol and it will never work for weed. That's because it's a weed. Easy to grow, dry and use. Leave the children at home where they are loved!

Andrew Carvin6 years ago

This is so stupid.

Legalize drugs already.

Here's a video I made explaining my point


No one with a brain thinks that the Drug War is effective. End it now.

Raya B.
Raya B6 years ago

This is so effing wrong I am speachless.

Daniel S.
Daniel S6 years ago

Good article! Thanks. This "war" seems to be more destructive than beneficial.