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You could be the most responsible parent on earth. You could have a prescription for medical marijuana, never medicate in front of your children, and keep your pot out of sight. But even in the 23 states where medicinal use of marijuana is legal, marijuana use can still lead to custody issues. With increasing legalization of marijuana, child custody services are faced with a gray area when it comes to parental pot use. And story after story illustrates, the medicinal user often comes out on the losing end.

Parents Are Losing Their Kids Over Medical Marijuana Use

A marijuana activist lost custody of her son after the 11-year old defended medical cannabis use during a drug education class at school. Vice News reports that the school contacted authorities, who arrived at the home of Shona Bander with a warrant. They found marijuana “within easy reach of a child”, and protective services removed her son.

A medicinal marijuana caregiver lost custody of her 6-month old infant because she legally grew plants and used them to treat her husband’s epilepsy. Maria Green’s ex-husband filed a complaint with child protective services alleging that a locked marijuana cultivation room made her home unfit for children. Her state laws allow the cultivation and use of marijuana to treat her husband’s condition, but protective services took their infant baby.

In Northern California, two medical cannabis users lost custody of their son when a loud argument brought police knocking on their door. The smell of marijuana in the home was reason enough for their 11 month old infant to be removed from their care, despite both parents presenting medical cards and insisting they had not medicated while their child was present.

Why is CPS Getting Involved if Marijuana is Medicinal?

Why are parents losing their children despite having legal rights to use marijuana medicinally? In an interview with CNN, a spokesperson for the CA Department of Social Services sheds some light on the subject: “CPS policy does not differentiate between medical and nonmedical use of marijuana.”

When the lines between medical cannabis and illegal Schedule I substances is blurred, medicinal marijuana advocates advise extreme caution for patients with children in the home.

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Best Practices for Child Safety with Medicinal Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) says child custody issues are a result of a bias against medicinal marijuana use by child protective workers, judges, and attorneys. And it’s not just authorities and child protective services who can try to take custody of a child in a medical cannabis home, either. According to the ASA, custody-divorce cases often side with parents trying to keep their kids away from pot.

The organization recommends the following best practices for medicinal marijuana users:

  • Possess or cultivate as little marijuana as your condition allows if you live in a home with a child.
  • Keep all medicinal marijuana out of plain sight, in a place that children cannot access.
  • Clearly label medicinal marijuana jars and with securely store with other prescription medications.
  • Clearly label any resultant marijuana food products as medicinal, and keep them far away from any children’s food.
  • Use discretion when medicating, and do not do so when your child is present. Consider medicating after a child is in bed or when you will not interact with him or her for several hours.
  • If your child is old enough to understand, specifically explain to him or her that the marijuana is your medicine and can be dangerous to children just like any other prescription medication.
  • Never drive with your children in the car after medicating.
  • Try to have one parent or adult present who is not medicated at all times.
  • Consider keeping notes for yourself regarding the precautions you have taken, so that you are prepared to inform protective services or a court if asked.

The Family Law and Cannabis Alliance recommends that medical marijuana be locked away and inaccessible to children.

Treat Medical Marijuana like other Prescription Drugs

When it comes to child safety, there is no such thing as ‘too careful.’ Medicinal marijuana may be legal, but it can still be a danger to children. Accidental pot poisonings often send children to emergency rooms and intensive-care units, and the number of these incidents is rising with increased legalization of pot.

Locking up medicinal marijuana in a prescription lock box or in a pill bottle with a combination locking cap can help protect children from accidental pot poisoning.

It can also help protect your parental rights in a custody dispute over medicinal marijuana use. Treat medicinal marijuana just like you would any other prescription drug in your home, and keep it locked up and out of sight and reach of any children.

Lock Up Your Pot and Protect Your Children

Currently, only two states have laws on the books protecting parental rights when it comes to medical cannabis use. Minnesota law states “A person shall not be denied custody of a minor child or visitation rights or parenting time with a minor child solely based on the person’s status as a [medical marijuana] patient …There shall be no presumption of neglect or child endangerment …unless the person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the safety of the minor as established by clear and convincing evidence.” Maine has a similar law.

If you live in one of the other 21 states in which you have a legal right to use medical or recreational marijuana, you are still at risk of having your children removed from your custody for smoking pot.

Keeping your marijuana locked up and out of reach of your children not only helps to protect their health, it may also help you in the worst-case custody battle scenario.