New York cracks down on parents caught with marijuana

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Mary Louise Parker Weeds

In New York, possession of amounts of marijuana that wouldn't even warrant a misdemeanor charge is now grounds for parents to be charged with child neglect and in some cases even have their kids removed from their homes. 

Laws vary on the issue from state to state, and in California, for instance, there has to be actual evidence of a parent's marijuana use harming a child in order for a neglect case to be legitimate. New York officials have taken a very different approach, and the child welfare system is flooded with various charges of neglect stemming from weed possession, a disproportionate amount of which are leveled at black and Hispanic parents. 

"In some cases, there are other allegations, but we think they are add-ons," said an official at the Center for Family Representation. "The reason the person is being brought into Family Court is the marijuana use." Another, from the Brooklyn Family Defense Project, said, "There is not the same use of crack cocaine as there used to be, so they are filing these cases instead."

On the other side of the debate, a spokesman for the Administration of Children's Services said, "Drug use itself is not child abuse or neglect, but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse."

So, it's tricky. One the one hand, when it comes to kids, better safe than sorry is a pretty good policy. On the other, is it really appropriate to file charges for something that otherwise wouldn't even warrant a misdemeanor, just because a person happens to have children?