RSS
Does pot possession equal child neglect?
In New York City, hundreds of parents are facing child-neglect charges after being caught with small amounts of marijuana. Is that fair?
 
New York City Child Services are cracking down on parents who smoke pot even casually, with some losing custody of their kids.
New York City Child Services are cracking down on parents who smoke pot even casually, with some losing custody of their kids.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Possessing up to 25 grams of marijuana — enough for 20 or 30 joints — is punishable in New York by a fine of up to $100, the legal equivalent of a traffic offense. But according to The New York Times, the city's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) lodges hundreds of neglect cases each year against parents caught with trivial amounts of pot, and often takes custody of their children, essentially making the child welfare system "an alternate system of justice." Is smoking pot really a form of child neglect, or is it time to rethink our marijuana policies?

There's nothing neglectful about a bit of weed: These days, "does anyone really think that smoking a little dope makes you unable to parent?" says Sierra Black in Strollerderby. Of course not, or I'd lose my kids over that six-pack of beer in my fridge. Let's hope this story gets New York to change its "flawed system," because taking someone's child over "an infraction so small the police aren't willing to charge you for it" is simply an abuse of power.
"Parents face neglect charges over trivial amounts of pot"

Marijuana is often just the tip of the iceberg: "Drug use itself is not child abuse or neglect, but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse," says ACS spokesman Michael Fagan, quoted in The New York Times. Most of the agency's marijuana cases involve other neglect issues, like children not going to school or being left to fend for themselves, and "other times, we find that admitted marijuana use masks other substance abuse."
"No cause for marijuana case, but enough for child neglect"

If there's neglect, prove it first: Reporters should ask New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg "whether his past drug use makes him unfit to be a parent," says Tim Lynch in Cato@Liberty. Not that he's at much risk — although white smokers account for the most pot use, ACS breaks up mostly black and Hispanic families over marijuana. New York needs to follow California's lead, and allow neglect cases only "if the state can demonstrate actual harm to children from marijuana use."
"When the state takes the children"

What's neglectful are our marijuana laws: New York's outrageous breaking-up of homes over minor infractions isn't the only way marijuana laws destroy families, says Andrew Belonsky in Death and Taxes. A large percentage of U.S. inmates were arrested on pot charges, many of them parents, and if laws were fully enforced, millions more parents would join them behind bars, leaving one parent or foster parents to raise their children. It's time for pro-family Republican lawmakers to "start evolving" on legalizing pot.
"Why conservatives should support marijuana legalization: It's about family"

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week