It was disappointing to read the headlines recently, regarding the precedent-setting custody decision involving a parent who is a medical marijuana patient. The story got picked up nationally, and caused some consternation among parents who use medical cannabis, in Maine and elsewhere.
However, after reviewing what we know of the case, it appears that this instance has less to do with the choice of substance, and much more to do with the parenting behaviors involved.
A 2009 change to the medical marijuana law states, “A person may not be denied parental rights and responsibilities with respect to or contact with a minor child as a result of acting in accordance with this chapter, unless the person’s conduct is contrary to the best interests of the minor child.”
As a patient, the right to use therapeutic cannabis comes with responsibilities. The primary responsibility for patients who parent is to always prioritize one’s children, to model responsible use, and to safely store cannabis and other medicines using child-proof containers, for example. Providers, whether dispensaries or caregivers, should work with patients who parent, offering storage solutions, education, and support if it appears that someone is having trouble prioritizing their children over their cannabis medicine.
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, who penned the unanimous 6-0 decision rejecting the father’s appeal, wrote, “As with any medication or substance, the question of whether a parent’s ingestion of marijuana is legal is only part of the equation,” she wrote. “The more important question is whether that ingestion negatively affects, limits, or impairs a parent’s capacity to parent his or her child.”
If facts of the case as reported are correct, the Supreme Judicial Court made the right call, motivated by a desire to protect the child’s well-being. The medicine in question is irrelevant; the apparent pattern of misuse was the guiding factor.
However, it would be unfortunate if the public’s take-away from this court decision underscores the negative stereotypes that some continue to hold about medical cannabis users. The vast majority of parents who choose medical cannabis are responsible, engaged, and thoughtful. They may be your co-workers, neighbors, folks you see every day. Just not in the headlines.
The real news here, then, is that this is an outlier case (the first of its kind since Maine approved medical cannabis in 1999), unique, unusual, and in no way representative of the many thousands of excellent parents who also happen to incorporate this therapeutic herb into their health care plan.