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Pot smoker wins child custody appeal, retains care of son

Colorado residents may have heard of a recent child custody decision that has received media coverage across the nation. The case involves a father who uses medical marijuana to treat chronic arthritis pain. The child protective services department in his area believed that his use of the drug had negative effects on his ability to parent. A recent child custody court order was subject to a number of limitations on his rights to parent his 2-year-old son.

The court originally ordered the father to undergo parenting classes and attend drug counseling, as well as submit to random drug testing. His son was placed under the supervision of the state's child protective agency. However, on appeal those orders were reversed, making this case a major win for parents who use medically prescribed marijuana. The father is now free to parent his child as he sees fit.

At the center of this case is the use of prescription medications to treat illness or injury. Upon appeal, the higher court ruled that the father did not have a drug abuse issue, and was fully capable of caring for his son. Absent a diagnosis by a doctor or a demonstrated history of behavioral issues related to drug use, drug abuse cannot be determined.

This ruling could have a significant impact on the rights of parents to raise their children while taking prescribed medications. While there certainly could be instances in which prescription drug use limits an individual's ability to care for a child, this ruling clarifies that the simple fact of using a medication does not meet that standard. Parents in Colorado who take any form of prescription medication can look to this ruling as an example of how courts across the country address challenges to child custody connected to legal drug use.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Court lets pot smoker keep child custody," Bob Egelko, Dec. 6, 2012

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