Senate Bill 357, a newly proposed measure that would bar family courts from discriminating against parents who participate in the Missouri’s medical marijuana program, has been a recent topic of discussion for state lawmakers.
How Medical Marijuana Affects Parents’ Rights in Missouri
Although the medical use of cannabis is legal in 35 states across the nation, only ten states have provisions in place that protect medical marijuana patients from losing custody or visitation rights due to participation in the program: Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Washington. For states that don’t have protective clauses in place, such as Missouri, qualified patients’ parental rights are up in the air.
According to Zaina Afrassiab from the University of Missouri School of Law, “a lack of case law regarding medical marijuana use (due to Missouri’s very recent legalization). . . has temporarily left qualified Missouri parents—parents with state-issued medical marijuana licenses—in a state of limbo.”
While cases outside of Missouri suggest that parents who are qualified patients should be able to continue using medical cannabis—as long as it’s done so within program guidelines and without endangering the child—the lack of legal clarity can be daunting. Afrassiab highlighted that, “in the past, courts have ordered marijuana-smoking parents to submit to random drug testing, participate in drug rehabilitation programs, and/or accept restricted visitation in order to prove parental fitness.”
For many parents, the lack of statutory family-law protections amounts to a scary hypothetical: What if I lose custody of my child for using medical marijuana?
Senate Bill 357, Medical Marijuana Patients, & Family Court
“I have been in family court, and I’ve had my status of just being a cannabis activist used against me by an abusive ex-spouse,” said Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of NORML Kansas. “I had to carry the stigma with me through court proceedings, and I had to participate in drug testing, just for exercising my First Amendment rights to reform cannabis laws in Missouri, to help other Missourians gain access to medicine that they needed.”
Kacz was one of five people chosen to read testimonies in support of Senate Bill 357 earlier this month. The proposed bill would amend state law so that “a family court participant who is a qualified patient with a valid medical marijuana certification shall not be in violation of the terms or conditions of the family court on the basis of his or her participation in Missouri’s medical marijuana program.”
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Barbara Anne Washington (D-Kansas City), led the presentation in front of Missouri’s Committee for Seniors, Families, Veterans & Military Affairs.
“Parents are not punished for other meds,” said Washington. “We don’t punish them for smoking cigarettes. We don’t punish them if they drink, unless it’s excessive of course. So if they are legally doing medical marijuana, then we want to make sure that those parents are not prejudiced and prevented from reunifying with their child.”
Paul Callicoat, a medical marijuana patient from Joplin, expressed frustration on the matter. “I find it unbelievable that in court, someone could hold that against me. It’s a constitutional right to use medical marijuana,” he said.
But committee chair Sen. Bill White (R-Joplin) wasn’t as receptive to the idea, arguing that it’s the family court’s job to identify problems with addiction and substance abuse in custody cases. He asserted that, “if you do have an alcohol issue, the court can say ‘don’t drink it. Now I know that’s a little different than a medical marijuana card, but a medical marijuana card is not the same as a [prescription] written under our federal system of how we write for narcotics and other such things.”
Cynthia Northcutt—a family law attorney, registered nurse, and witness in support of Senate Bill 357—quickly cleared up any confusion, saying that “cannabis is a medicine. . . There is significant, high quality, peer reviewed evidence that cannabis is effective in treating and/or managing many health conditions.”
While there’s currently no upcoming hearing scheduled for the bill, the supporters behind it are passionate. Jamie Kacz emphasized that “legal medical marijuana patients should not live in fear of losing their children. No patient deserves to have their family torn apart, due to their status as a legal marijuana patient.”
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