As marijuana laws continue to change, legal questions arise

Most of the political headlines in the Tri-State Area over the last few days have been dedicated to the New York Legislature’s passage of a bill legalizing medical marijuana.

If ultimately signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York would officially join the ranks of 23 other states — including New Jersey — that permit the sale and use of the drug for medicinal purposes.

While many have applauded this growing acknowledgement of pot by state lawmakers, others are starting to grow concerned about the impact these changing marijuana laws are having in the realm of family law.

In particular, attorneys, family professionals and even marijuana activists have all expressed concern over how otherwise legal marijuana is starting to play more of a role in child custody disputes or even prompt child-endangerment reviews. 

To illustrate, consider the experience of one New Jersey woman, a legal-pot activist, who had child-protection workers visit her home after her nine-year-old son referred to his mother’s advocacy work regarding hemp at school and a concerned teacher reported the matter to school officials.  

“They said, ‘We’re just here to help.’ Emotionally, my brain was like, ‘My kids! My kids!’ My mama bear instinct kicked in,” said the mother who has since moved to Colorado.

Experiences like these, say experts, underscore how there is currently a dearth of standards at the state level setting forth under what circumstances medical marijuana can be shown to constitute an otherwise unacceptable risk of harm to children.

“The legal standard is always the best interest of the children, and you can imagine how subjective that can get,” said an official with the Boston-based Family Law & Cannabis Alliance.

This state of affairs, argue experts, has actually enabled many spouses to successfully assert that a former partner who is in possession of a legal amount of medical marijuana poses a danger to the wellbeing of their children in custody disputes — without real reference to the underlying circumstances.

It will be interesting to see if state legislatures begin to reexamine their child endangerment/child custody laws in response to the evolving status of medical marijuana, or if courts change the way they treat the matter.

Source: The Burleson Star, “Changing pot laws prompt child-endangerment review,” Kristen Wyatt, June 15, 2014

Date Published: February 7, 2017

Written by: Cooper Levenson, P.A.

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