How legal business owners and patients lose their children to the system’s most glaring loophole.
By December Kennedy
There are very few things that will instill more fear or more potent a panic than that of a parent faced with the thought of losing their children, yet inside an industry with thousands of jobs and hundreds of professional positions that just happen to be cannabis related, that fear is a daily reality for many parents who are just trying to make a living. Business owners are frequently told that they are “feeding their kids with drug money” and patients are routinely investigated for the worst of crimes, child abuse, based solely on their admission of cannabis use.The issue of Child Welfare in the cannabis industry is a topic that few, if any industry leaders are even brave enough to discuss. Foregoing the topic for more hot button issues like pesticide use on marijuana crops or the abject racism regarding ownership has left a gaping hole in the regulation guidelines regarding cannabis, specifically in reference to consumption and cultivation by parents and caregivers within the state. When it comes to consuming or growing marijuana when there are kids around, legally, In Colorado, we just don’t know where we stand.
It is no secret that cannabis use has become as widespread and commonplace as ever here in Colorado and you can’t buy a gallon of milk without getting into a discussion about the changing landscape. While the public opinion has shifted dramatically, and continues to rally support nationwide in the United States, there are many places and opinions that haven’t changed despite positive evidence to the contrary. One of those places yet still clinging to the archaic view on cannabis, is the division of Child Protective Services. CPS is a portion of our local government, and an organization with far reaching powers aimed to support the underserved members of society, our children. This is a noble and worthy cause, protecting the lives of thousands of children in this state and others, but the lack of clear direction surrounding cannabis use coupled with it’s Federal schedule as a dangerous, addictive and medically deficient plant, has left many parents in a legal limbo faced with the very real threat of losing their beloved children.
When I went into liver failure from pharmaceutical toxicity at 25 years old, the doctors told me to go home and say goodbye to my children. I had ballooned to well over 200 pounds and spent every day stuck in bed with unrelenting pain. I was unable to care for my three young children who desperately needed their mother and my life had dwindled to nothing in front of me.
Western Medicine failed and my body systematically shut down, one organ at a time prompting over ten different surgeries and countless months of demoralizing pain. I was dying and the doctors knew there was nothing they could do, so when someone suggested I try cannabis, I had literally nothing left to lose. Within a year of starting, I was off of over a dozen different medications and my liver function was returning to normal. I lost over 100 pounds and as the weight melted, I began the long and painful process of rebuilding my muscles in order to be able to walk again, in order to push a stroller or hold a tiny hand while walking across the street to the park. Id fight through fear inescapable and pain unimaginable and I did so with the help of cannabis and a loving family who endlessly encouraged me to keep trying.
Eventually, Id grow strong enough to pick up my young son and hold him in my own arms and Id be the one letting go of the seat as my son stabilized his bike and learned to ride without training wheels for the first time. Id do it all under the strict supervision and instruction of a doctor who saw how much cannabis was helping, one whom cautiously encouraged the treatment. Each week, he would scribble his notes, shaking his head side to side as I spoke, amazed at the progress. I was getting better, I was getting my life back, and it was because of weed.
When I’d see people I hadn’t seen in years they would always remark about my transformation and without fail, I’d enthusiastically tell them how I’d gotten better. I became a cannabis televangelist and stopped just shy of going door to door to tell people the good news. I’d tirelessly educate people about the plant that saved my life and eventually I became a full fledged activist, fighting for not only myself but for anyone in the state that needed it as medicine. I’d go on to open one of the first Medical Marijuana Bakeries in the state of Colorado and I’d pride myself on crafting recipes that made people feel better. It was a rough road, but I’d felt better than ever before and, thanks to cannabis, i was able to finally live an almost normal life.
Then one day, that normal life was shattered by law enforcement on my door step. They wanted to come inside, they wanted to meet the kids and they wanted to see my garden. The police officers were followed closely by a pair of social workers who glanced through my cupboards and read the grocery list stuck to the refrigerator and peeked suspiciously into my medicine cabinets. I took them into our small garden that was locked behind two separate doors and held my breath. After counting and recounting each pot of organic soil that held my medicine, the cops reached out to shake our hands. “You aren’t breaking any laws, here.” They said and motioned for the door. “Have a nice day, ma’am.”
The relief of giving a cop a tour of my cannabis garden while I had a toddler on my hip, and having that cop tell me that I wasn’t breaking any rules, was surprisingly short lived. The social workers thanked the cops for coming and when they had gone, the social worker turned to us and said that they would be opening up an investigation anyway. No laws were broken, yet CPS would be investigating us for child abuse. The social workers were very clear, they knew medical marijuana was legal in our state, they acknowledged the paperwork we had from my legitimate doctor for my legitimate medical issue, and they saw that were we being honest and helpful and cooperative. The police officers had cleared us of any wrongdoing, and the social workers saw we were strictly following the rules, and yet, they didn’t care. It was their position that any cannabis use inside the home where children reside constitutes child abuse and we had but one choice, lose the plants or lose the kids.
In retrospect, I understand why someone might see such a dramatic turnaround like I had, in such a short period of time, and immediately make assumptions. I understand why someone made the call to Child Protective Services and told them that there was drug use in the house, around my children, prompting an investigation that lasted months and included those children going through an intrusive and traumatic hair follicle drug test at the local county jail amongst a waiting room of actual criminals. I even understand why, when I told the person that lodged the complaint all about cannabis and its benefits she crossed her arms over her chest and said “I don’t want to be educated” promptly ending the conversation for good. I believe that the desire to protect children is ultimately a good one, and I can’t fault someone for not knowing the truth. The trauma of having a state agency suddenly involved in our lives based on a very false allegation reverberated in my family for years and even now, five years later, I still flinch when there is a knock on my door I wasn’t expecting.
The goal of Child Protective Services is to provide support for the families in our community that need it. This goal is often muddied by personal opinions as well as situational bias on the part of the social workers who are tasked with personally determining what level of ‘help’ to provide a family in need. After an anonymous tip, one CPS worker might perform a well check-up on a family and determine that despite the dismal circumstances surrounding them, the family is doing a good job and just needs a helping hand in the form of financial or medical assistance.
Another worker may see the same family and choose to remove the children from the home based on social, racial, or economic prejudices, or simply because they do not agree with the parenting style that has been employed. This means that there is a very real danger as parents inside the cannabis community that a social worker with CPS may make a determination about you or your family based on disinformation or prejudice, and there is a very real danger that
your children can be taken from you simply because you are a medical marijuana patient, even
if you have broken no laws. In the devastating case of 11 month old Angel Lane Place, who was removed by CPS in September of 2014 after her father admitted to marijuana use, foster care was a death sentence. The 20 year old foster mother admitted to shaking the infant while holding her by the throat, and to dropping her because she wouldn’t stop crying, illustrating a dangerous lack of screening in the foster care community.
Anyone, at any time, can place a call to the Child Protective Services and prompt an opening of a case disrupting the lives of any family and there are little to no repercussions to filing a false report. The anonymous tip model allows for anyone to lodge a complaint about anyone else, for any reason, often throwing an entire family into upheaval based on a private opinion. If you wear your medical marijuana badge while attending your son’s soccer game, or you educate a neighbor on what might ease their medical issues, someone may call CPS. Once a case is opened, you have little recourse to protect yourself or your children from the extensive, painful and incredibly intrusive process.
As a business owner in the cannabis market, a mother of three and a medical marijuana patient,
I have had to learn to use extreme caution discussing the issue with anyone. I have to be careful who I give my business card to and what I write about on social media and what advice I offer unsolicited. The pain and stress of going through an investigation, living with the very real threat of losing my children to the hands of the state simply for my choice of medication has left indelible marks on me, coloring my life with a constant hum of fear. As a survivor, I have a very real desire to share the medicinal benefits of marijuana with everyone, but as a witness to the
power of Child Protective Services to make personal judgements that threaten my family, I often find myself staying silent.
When it comes to drugs around children, there are few who won’t side with extreme caution, but what does that mean for the thousand of adults, like myself, that are legally working within the cannabis market? Without clarity on the laws, children are being taken from loving homes based upon the admitted use of cannabis by one or more of the parents, while other children are left unprotected in situations far more dangerous than just a parents choices to smoke weed. Worse yet, children are taken from pot smoking parents and placed into foster homes rife with emotional and sexual abuse, and in some cases, those innocent children being ‘protected’ are killed by the hands of abusive foster parents. On one hand, CPS has a responsibility to protect the unprotected, on the other hand, they clearly need guidance in the form of legislation on what constitutes a dangerous situation for a child in regards to marijuana.
I think we can all agree that it is inappropriate to light up a joint in front of your toddler. I think we can also agree that any drug use within view of a child is not in the best interest of that child and that you have a responsibility to keep it away from small hands and growing brains. However, during this intense time of shifting public opinion, is it not fair to ask for clarification on what is appropriate in the cannabis discussion? Is smoking out of a bong in front of your kid while you watch cartoons together different than discretely taking a capsule containing THC to treat your pain so that you can function effectively as a parent? Is vaporizing cannabis different than smoking, and is it okay to medicate or indulge while walking your dog alone in the park late at night? Is it wrong to grow your own organic medicine right next to your tomatoes simply
because you have children in the house? Where is the line and when can we stop being afraid of the repercussions that the damaging prohibition of cannabis may cause to our otherwise loving families?
In Colorado we are very lucky to have medical and recreational cannabis laws on the books. It shows a progressive and encouraging stance, one that the whole world should take note of when determining their own laws in the future.We are truly at the forefront of the movement and I am so grateful and so proud of that, but as much of a step forward as our laws are, we are still lacking an enormous amount of clarity surrounding the most important aspect of cannabis, the real life consequences of consumption and cultivation. We need our lawmakers to move past simply regulating the industry and collecting tax dollars and move toward protecting the rights and lives of the families in our communities. Our children deserve it.