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Court draws line between drug use and abuse in custody case

Everyone knows that taking drugs can impair a person's judgment and behavior. Understandably, courts, law enforcement agencies and child protective organizations generally associate drug use with the limited ability to protect and care for a child. In some cases, however, an individual may be able to keep child custody if the use of drugs occurs as part of a medicinal regimen.

On Dec. 5, a court in California reversed a previous ruling that placed a 2-year-old child in the custody of a child protective agency. The court gave custody back to the child's father, who admitted to using marijuana four or five times per week as an arthritis treatment. In issuing this verdict, the court asserted that it could find no evidence that the child was exposed to marijuana or drug paraphernalia. It also rejected the allegation that the father had a substance abuse problem.

The 3-0 ruling by the court over the child custody modification comes as more jurisdictions are recognizing legitimate marijuana use. The ruling seeks to establish a clear distinction between the use of drugs and drug abuse. The latter, according to the court, has to be evidenced by behavioral issues or social or relationship problems. In this case, the use of marijuana did not appear to endanger the child, making the usage insufficient grounds to deny custody. The county has the option of appealing to the State Supreme Court.

In general, courts take the best interests of the child very seriously. Regulations regarding drug use are still changing, however, in New York and in other states as well. Therefore, before adopting a medical drug regimen, Manhattan residents may want to investigate whether their decisions might prompt a child endangerment case and subsequent loss of legal or physical custody.

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

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