Earlier this year, a judge in rural Washington who called the state’s medical marijuana law “an absolute joke” and “an excuse to be loaded all the time” ordered a stepfather, Julian Robinson, to stay at least a quarter-mile away from the teenagers he has helped rear for the past 13 years, because he is a medical marijuana patient.
That means Robinson can’t be around the children, even though they live in his home
near Castle Rock, Wash., with his wife and their four younger children, reports Gene Johnson of The Associated Press
Robinson said he sometimes stays with friends, or rolls out a foam sleeping pad in his neighbor’s horse trailer. He said he misses baseball games and church services with the kids.
“It has torn my family apart,” Robinson said. “We used to do everything together.”
In the case, the biological father, who has never had custody of the teenagers, is trying to win primary custody for the first time because their mother is married to Robinson, a medical marijuana patient.
While state medical marijuana laws can protect patients from criminal charges — or, in the case of Washington state, at least provide an affirmative defense against them — they haven’t prevented judges and others from considering a parent’s legal marijuana use in custody disputes.
This is even true in states like Washington, where authorized patients “shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege,” according to the state’s medical marijuana law.
Arbiters often side with parents who claim they are trying to “keep their children away from pot.” Medical marijuana advocates in several states, including Washington, California and Colorado, said they have been getting more inquiries from parents involved in custody cases in recent years as the number of medical marijuana patients who are also parents grows.
Lauren Payne, a legal services coordinator with patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said that since 2006 ASA had received calls about 61 such cases.
“The court cannot countenance a situation where a person is using marijuana, under the influence of marijuana and is caring for children,” ruled an Island County, Wash., judge in one custody dispute.
“There’s nothing in the medical marijuana law that deprives the court of its responsibility and legal authority to provide for proper care of children so that people aren’t caring for children who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
Many patients insist that using marijuana makes them no less fit as parents, and that they shouldn’t lose custody or visitation rights if there’s no evidence they are abusing the drug, which is legal for them to use medicinally.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, only two of the 14 states with medical marijuana laws — Michigan and Maine — spell out that parents who are also cannabis patients won’t lose custody or visitation rights unless the patient’s actions endanger the child or are contrary to the best interests of the child.
Opposing spouses often argue they have a right to keep their children away from “illegal substances;” marijuana remains illegal for any purpose under federal law.
AP Video: Medical Pot Can Cost Parents In Custody Disputes