Child custody injustice over cannabis use happens every single day. Anyone seeking legal custody of a minor is assessed for suitability and appropriate environment by a team from Child Protective Services. If the social workers or their supervisors feel that there are issues which counter a child’s best interest, they can deny custody.
However, ANY cannabis use, including medical cannabis, even if no other evidence of abuse or neglect is found is considered a huge problem by both CPS and in family court for biological parents, guardians, foster parents, adoptive parents, and anyone seeking temporary or permanent custody of children. CPS treats all cases of child custody the same even in states where cannabis use is legal for adult-use or medicinal reasons. Federal marijuana prohibition is cited regardless of state of residence.
Marijuana law reform must include family court and Child Protective Services. If the intention is to protect children, CPS decisions should be based on more than simple possession of cannabis which has ZERO reported deaths. Possession of alcohol or any legal medicines in the home, which have much greater risks, is not treated the same…evidence of abuse or neglect is taken into consideration.
“I did not become a father without taking careful consideration for my responsibility to do so,” says Edward, age 35, speaking of his two children, Lydiah,8, and Leonidas, 6. But because of the cruel, and often unrealized consequences of Virginia cannabis laws, he has to fear losing this right which he treasures. Cannabis use to Child Protective Services automatically means loss of custody.
Edward struggles with depression and anxiety and follows his doctor’s professional recommendation to take medications to manage his condition, but to still be the connected and mindful parent in which he commits to proved to be a challenge under this plan. He was needing meds to wake up and also other meds to sleep. His doctors would prescribe more pills to counteract the side effects of the original meds. Often these added meds resulted in making him feel sick, sometimes suicidal and sedated enough to sleep 16 hours a day. It became difficult as he was forced to make a choice between helping one set of symptoms staying awake and alert enough to care for his children or go off these medications risking violations to the child custodial agreement with his former partner in 2016. Cannabis seemed to help him manage his health better.
Making this choice weighed on his mind during the custody battles in court in 2016, 2017, 2018 and complicated hopes for him maintaining a state of health. Edward found periodic cannabis use to be helpful when his medications would create a roller coaster of undesirable side effects. Like many patients taking a cocktail of conventional medication, he felt as though his health was out of his control. Choosing Cannabis would be breaking the law and he would be drug screened sadly costing him the right to be the father he strives to be. He stayed on his meds until sickness became the reason the medications needed to go in the summer of 2017.
This time he treated his Bipolar Depression with Cannabis for a longer more consistent period. Because of this, he realized cannabis may be a better option to treat his illness. He was alert and able to have the patience and energy needed to be the father he wanted to be. However, these ups and downs he experienced in the transition to overcoming these challenges affected his marriage.
Managing a health condition is not easy for anyone. Now add to this the stress of his family going through a divorce. Divorce is not easy for anyone either. The adults involved often find themselves resorting to the tactic of using private health challenges of the opposing party against them.
Edward’s former partner did just that on several different occasions during their active marriage and separation; once by enlisting the family’s church pastor in 2016. When she asked for help, the pastor filed a Protective Court Order against Edward, then he was simultaneously served a Temporary Detention Order filed by his ex further compounding his predicament causing him four months in jail.
This being his first ever violation, a misdemeanor no less, resulting in Edward’s subsequence arrest, the $50 bond was revoked forcing indefinite jail time while waiting to vindicate himself. Four months in maximum security, 23 hour lockdown in solitary confinement forced Edward’s acceptance of a plea deal allowing him 4 months time served if the following 8 months of probation were kept clean. “Being away from my children at that time shattered me,” Edward remembers. To end the possibility of counter conflict the pastor extended the PCO an extra two years.
Over some time, Edward was able to prove to the court his commitment to continuing to be a responsible parent and a 50/50 custody agreement was made. In the summer of 2018, then to make matters worse, it was reported to Child Protective Services that he treats Bipolar Depression with cannabis. Edward was visited by CPS and escorted by the sheriff’s deputies upon testing positive for THC. The children were removed from the home immediately. He was told that custody in 100% resides at the mother’s discretion. She reported it in order to spitefully gain custody of the children.
Ironically, the children’s mother subsequently overdosed on her own medications in an attempt to commit suicide. Prior to the suicide attempt and challenges of her own to deal with, Edward’s ex surrendered the children over to him and confirmed surrender with the Child Protective Services. He now has full custody. “I cried when the judge awarded me sole custody,” said Edward.
“I am grateful I have the opportunity to really be present for my kids now.” He says cannabis allows a sense of peace in their home. They enjoy outdoor activities and are happy spending time together. “I feel I am more able to truly be involved in my children’s education and well being now that I have a better control of my health,” said Edward.
Edward still lives in fear of losing his children at anytime for making the choice to treat his illness with cannabis. Patients need safe and regulated access to cannabis that gives full therapeutic treatment without the fear of uprooting their children’s lives.
Thanks to recent expansion of the Virginia Medical Cannabis Oil Program, Edward has become a registered Virginia Cannabis Oil patient in hopes for further expansion of the program including protections during custodial conflicts like not automatic emergency separation of parents from their children.