~ Photograph by Melissa Mesko ~
“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 cannabis laws, he has to fear losing this right. He and his ex have been in and out of custody court for a few years. Each time, CPS does not look favorably on his choice to treat his Bipolar depression with cannabis despite his enrollment as a registered Virginia medical cannabis patient. There has been proposed legislation to protect patients, but it was not passed. Patients need safe and regulated access to cannabis that gives full therapeutic treatment without the fear of uprooting their children’s lives.
Edward struggles with depression and anxiety and followed his previous doctor’s professional recommendation to take medications to manage his condition, but to be the connected and mindful parent in which he commits proved to be a challenge under this plan. He was needing meds to both wake up and to sleep. His doctors would prescribe more pills to counteract the side effects of the original meds. 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. Cannabis seemed to help him manage his health better.
At one point, Edward was granted full custody. “I cried when the judge awarded me sole custody. I am grateful when I have the opportunity to really be present for my kids.” 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 with cannabis,” said Edward.
Edward’s ex continues to petition for custody citing his cannabis use as dangerous to their children’s well being while her history of opioid overdose do not weigh against her parenting abilities in the eyes of CPS. Her complaints have resulted in Edward having to spend months in maximum security jail on 23 hour lockdown in solitary confinement and countless fines and months of probation which combined drained his finances.
Edward was visited by CPS and escorted by the sheriff’s deputies upon testing positive for THC. The children were abruptly removed from the home immediately and he was told that 100% of custody in resides at the mother’s discretion. She reported his cannabis use in order to spitefully gain custody of the children. No other incident or concern was cited. When Edward showed his Virginia medical cannabis patient card to officials, it had little effect on the outcome of the ongoing custody battle despite cannabis being recommended by his doctor. CPS policy dictates automatic removal of the children if cannabis use is determined by the parent.
It is unfair for a parent to be criminalized for medical cannabis by CPS, but most of all unfair to the children whose lives are tumultuous for the criminalization of cannabis, not because their father consumes cannabis. Medical cannabis patients need protection from antiquated Child Protective Services policies that do more harm than good for the whole family.
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 by CPS.
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