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Medical marijuana laws and child custody: a gray legal topic

Recently, Minnesota became the latest state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. According to an article on MinnPost.com, in order to obtain a prescription for medical marijuana, an individual must be diagnosed with one of nine qualifying conditions. Experts estimate that approximately 5,000 individuals throughout the state will qualify to obtain a medical marijuana prescription and license under current guidelines. That number, however, could significantly increase if additional conditions, including chronic pain, are added to the list of qualifying conditions.

With the passage of a medical marijuana law, those in favor of using marijuana for medicinal purposes appear to have triumphed. The federal government, however, still considers pot a schedule I drug and therefore illegal. As additional states pass legislation decriminalizing marijuana for medical use, questions related to the drug’s use among parents and the impact on child custody must be examined and answered.

Traditionally, a parent's drug use is considered to be a danger to a child's welfare and wellbeing. In these types of cases, a child is typically removed from the home of the parent who is using drugs. What happens, however, if a parent has a prescription and license to legally use the drug?

In a recent Colorado case, a man temporarily lost custody of his children after he applied for a medical marijuana license. In another state, the daughter of a woman who was legally growing marijuana was removed from the home after her ex-husband complained his child was in danger. As additional states take action to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use, these types of child custody cases are likely to increase.

Child custody matters are largely determined by the family court system which takes into consideration the "best interest" of a child. In many cases, this rationale works. However, when it comes to highly political and controversial issues such as the legalization of marijuana, personal biases may interfere.

Source: The Washington Post, "Changing pot laws create gray areas in child-welfare and custody cases," Kristen Wyatt, June 15, 2014MinnPost.com, "Minnesota's medical marijuana fight now turns to those in chronic pain," John Welsh, June 26, 2014

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