Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana or who have admitted to using it have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases though they did not face criminal charges, the New York Times reports. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children. New York City's child welfare agency said marijuana use by parents could often hint at other serious problems in the way they cared for their children.
As states and localities loosen penalties for marijuana for both recreational and medical uses, they are grappling with how to handle its presence in homes with children. California, where the medical marijuana movement has flourished, requires that child welfare officials demonstrate actual harm to a child from marijuana use to bring neglect cases; defense lawyers there say the authorities are bringing fewer of them. In New York, the child welfare agency has not shied from these cases. For these parents, the child welfare system is an alternate system of justice, with legal standards on marijuana that appear to be tougher than those of criminal courts or, to some extent, of society at large.