The New York Times had an article about the appalling practice of taking children away from parents if they are found to smoke pot — even if they’re not charged with the drug infraction.
The police found about 10 grams of marijuana, or about a third of an ounce, when they searched Penelope Harris’s apartment in the Bronx last year. The amount was below the legal threshold for even a misdemeanor, and prosecutors declined to charge her. But Ms. Harris, a mother whose son and niece were home when she was briefly in custody, could hardly rest easy.
The police had reported her arrest to the state’s child welfare hot line, and city caseworkers quickly arrived and took the children away.
Her son, then 10, spent more than a week in foster care. Her niece, who was 8 and living with her as a foster child, was placed in another home and not returned by the foster care agency for more than a year. Ms. Harris, 31, had to weather a lengthy child neglect inquiry, though she had no criminal record and had never before been investigated by the child welfare authorities, Ms. Harris and her lawyer said.“I felt like less of a parent, like I had failed my children,” Ms. Harris said. “It tore me up.”
Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges, according to city records and defense lawyers. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.
New York City’s child welfare agency said that it was pursuing these cases for appropriate reasons, and that marijuana use by parents could often hint at other serious problems in the way they cared for their children.
Then you should have to prove that those other serious problems exist, not merely that they might exist. A parent smoking pot is no more an indicator of child neglect than a parent drinking a beer or a glass of wine, yet we don’t assume that everyone who buys alcohol is neglecting their children. It is a ridiculous double standard, as is the criminalization of marijuana entirely.
The war on drugs destroys families, not just in this way but also by removing so many parents from the home to put them in jail for drug possession. It’s time to end it, once and for all.