by Seshata on 04/02/2014 | Medicinal

The Children Caught in the Crossfire I

Despite—or perhaps due to—the massive gains made over the last few years in establishing a legal status for cannabis in the USA, the backlash continues. Worryingly, one form the backlash is taking is among the most emotionally devastating possible for all concerned—the removal of children from their homes.


Part I – Removing Children From Their Homes Due To Parents’ Cannabis Use

Despite—or perhaps due to—the massive gains made over the last few years in establishing a legal status for cannabis in the USA, the backlash continues. Worryingly, one form the backlash is taking is among the most emotionally devastating possible for all concerned—the removal of children from their homes.

Illicit Cannabis Use and Child Removals

The Children Caught In The Crossfire I - 1. 8-month-old Brielle 'Bree' Green, who was removed from her parents home in Lansing, Michigan
8-month-old Brielle ‘Bree’ Green, who was removed from her parents’ home in Lansing, Michigan

The removal of children from homes of illicit cannabis-using parents has long been a fact of American life, although there are no accurate records held on annual figures. Parents that use cannabis illicitly are branded delinquent, irresponsible, and criminal; their cannabis use alone is often sufficient for the Child Protective Services (CPS) to conclude that they are unfit to be parents.

Many activists in states where medical cannabis is not yet a reality are also targeted in this way—when they have to prioritise regaining custody of their children, they typically have a lot less time to devote to campaigning.

Furthermore, even if the children are subsequently returned to the home, the threat of further action is sufficient to dissuade many from eliciting more unwelcome attention. Thus, the removal has the twin effect of punishing the activist and discouraging them from resuming their undesirable activities.

Even Medical Patients Risk Losing Their Children

However, many recent cases involve parents who are patients in states with legal medical cannabis programs in place—who, despite the best efforts of various interested parties to imply otherwise, are entirely law-abiding citizens.

Medical cannabis patients have been prescribed a medicine by a professional—an individual that, by definition, is best equipped to make the decision, and better equipped than a police officer, judge or jury.

There is no evidence to suggest that parents’ proper use of prescription medicines poses any risk to children in their care; however, there has also been no provision made to protect parents in any of the existing pieces of medical cannabis legislation.

If children of parents on other prescription drugs are not subject to removal from their family home, why should children of cannabis-prescribed parents be? The answer, of course, comes down to ideology getting in the way of the facts.

Negative Effects of Removal from the Home

The Children Caught In The Crossfire I - 2. Elijah & Laustin Rinehart, who were removed from their parents home in Boise, Idaho, but returned three weeks later
Elijah & Laustin Rinehart, who were removed from their parents’ home in Boise, Idaho, but were returned three weeks later

Removing children from the homes of their parents should always be a last-ditch measure. Even in cases of illicit substance abuse or other illegal activity, removing a child from the family home can cause far greater and longer-lasting disruption and trauma than that borne of the existing environment.

Of course, if neglect or mistreatment is occurring, action should be taken; however, it is not acceptable to assume neglect or mistreatment is occurring purely because cannabis is being smoked in a home.

Even in cases where a child’s safety is demonstrably at risk, the home the child is removed to must be safe—certainly, safer than the previous. There are various cases of children being removed to unsafe homes, which in some cases have resulted in serious injury, mistreatment and even death of the children involved.

The fact that children are being removed to unsafe environments unequivocally demonstrates the real agenda at work here, which is clearly not to protect children. Rather, cannabis-using parents are being punished for daring to challenge the status quo.

Notable Cases of Child Removals

Brielle ‘Bree’ Green

In Michigan alone, it is estimated that more than 20 children have been removed from the homes of medical cannabis patients, despite the state having a medical cannabis program that is now five years old. One recent case from Michigan, that of eight-month-old Brielle ‘Bree’ Green, has provoked substantial media attention, and has become the focus of campaign efforts by various groups.

Brielle’s parents are Maria and Steve Green, two registered medical cannabis patients (Maria is also a caregiver); Brielle was removed from their home on the basis of allegations made by Maria’s 6-year-old son from a previous marriage that cannabis was smoked openly in the home. The Greens deny that this is the case, and are currently fighting a court battle to have Brielle returned to them. Brielle is currently housed with her grandmother.

Elijah & Laustin Rinehart

In Idaho, a state that does not have a medical cannabis program, the CPS has targeted activists and campaigners involved in trying to introduce legal cannabis. Such is the case of Elijah and Laustin, sons of Lindsey and Josh Rinehart—two prominent medical cannabis activists.

While the parents were away and the children in the care of a babysitter, police entered and—without a warrant—searched the Rineharts’ home, where they allegedly found cannabis in locations that were accessible by children. The children—along with two other children, the sons of family friend Sarah Caldwell, who had accompanied the Rineharts on their trip—were removed on the basis that they were in imminent danger.

They did so following an incident in which an unrelated 11-year-old became sick after consuming cannabis and allegations were made that the cannabis had come from the Rinehart home. Beyond the fact that the child was acquainted with the Rinehart children, there is no evidence that the cannabis in question originated from the Rinehart home. After three weeks in foster care, the children were returned to their parents.

Savannah Lackey & Charles King

The Children Caught In The Crossfire I - 3. Savannah Lackey, reunited with her children, who were returned to her after several months in foster care
Savannah Lackey, reunited with her children, who were returned to her after several months in foster care

Savannah Lackey and Charles King legally grew medical cannabis in Tehama County, Northern California until May this year, when they were raided by armed police—who confiscated their crop and removed their two children, aged just three years and eleven months respectively. Both are now facing felony counts of cannabis cultivation and child abuse.

The raid occurred just days after a community meeting held by the local sheriff and county supervisor to discuss regulations for legally growing cannabis, along with penalties for contravening the rules. The penalties were stated to be limited to fines, or simply notice to make requisite changes. However, the Lackeys believe that the meeting was a ruse to identify local growers, and claim that several of the officers attending the meeting were also present at the raid.

Savannah Lackey, who has a doctor’s recommendation for medical cannabis to treat Grave’s disease, has ceased using her preferred medication in order to pass drug tests and so strengthen her case. As a result, she is now experiencing severe anxiety and insomnia.

The two children have now been returned to their mother, although she has concerns regarding the negative impact of their time away. During their time away, the children’s height and weight increase slowed dramatically, and their organic, whole-foods based diet was not maintained.

California’s 4th District Appellate Court ruled in 2012 that medical cannabis use alone is insufficient reason to remove a child from their home.

Alexandria Hill

The Children Caught In The Crossfire I - 4. Alexandria Hill, the two-year-old from Round Rock, Texas, who died at the hands of her foster mother
Alexandria Hill, the two-year-old from Round Rock, Texas, who tragically died at the hands of her foster mother

Undoubtedly the most appalling case brought to light thus far is that of two-year-old Alexandria Hill, who was removed from her parents’ home in Round Rock, Texas, after they were found to be smoking cannabis and charged with neglectful supervision. Texas has no medical cannabis program, and punishes recreational users relatively harshly.

Alexandria was placed with a series of unsuitable foster carers. During visitations with her parents while with the first set, her father stated that he found mould and mildew in her bag and observed bruises on her body. As a result of his complaints, the child was transferred to a new foster parent, 54-year-old Sherill Small—with tragic consequences.

On July 29th, 2013, Alexandria was rushed to hospital with severe blunt force trauma to the head. She became comatose shortly after arriving at the hospital, and two days later her parents made the decision to remove life support.

On Thursday, 1st August, Sherill Small was charged with criminal homicide, and a second foster child was removed from her care. She was inexperienced as a foster parent, and had been previously charged with neglect of another child in her care, although upon review, no evidence of this was apparently found.

Who Profits From Child Removals?

There is a pervasive theme of unfounded allegations, warrantless searches, and disregard for state cannabis laws ongoing here. More disturbingly, there is evidence that removals are being pushed through with little real basis, in a bid to increase profits for private child-placing agencies.

Alongside this are abundant allegations that certain private agencies are failing to vet foster parents sufficiently, while offering financial incentive to foster children—a perfect recipe for attracting individuals of dubious background, or those who view child fostering as a source of income.

The Texas agency with jurisdiction over Alexandria Hill’s case, Texas Mentor, has been placed under evaluation by state child care licensing officials after 114 violations of standards in 56 foster homes were noted over the preceding two years. Texas Mentor receives $10 million in funding from the state, and handles around 5% of its foster children.

In California, 10 of 58 counties have child removal rates up to 200 times higher than both state and national averages. These counties also happen to be low-population areas with high levels of medical cannabis cultivation. Local agencies can receive between $2,000 and $8,000 in funding per child, once they are removed and rehomed.

Of the four states mentioned in this article, only Michigan has made it a legal requirement that child-placing agencies must be state-controlled or non-profit.

How You Can Help

The optimistic way to view the situation is that we are winning, and thus the opposition must in desperation resort to the coldest, cruellest, most emotionally-traumatising tactics, in order to make examples of those who have already transgressed and warn others not to make the same mistake—while thirdly reinforcing the message to the undecided remnant of the public that medical cannabis users are irresponsible parents.

To those on the fence: if the government can take away their kids on the slightest pretext, and what amounts to an ideological difference, then what’s to stop them from taking away your kids for a legal activity on the basis that it is still frowned upon by certain sections of society?

There are various ways to fight the removals of children from medical cannabis-using parents. Beyond fighting in the courts, the battle must be fought in the newspapers, on social media, and in conversation. The more awareness that can be raised on this issue, the better it will aid the campaign.

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Cheryl OWENS

I have a very close friend that has seizures and have a doctors' Oder to use cannabis to control his seizures, I have notice that when he does cannabis his shakes and stuttering is greatly diminished the only problem is the expense. cannabis is a herb that is mentioned 2 times in scripture so why is the cost so exorbant? how can a person raise one's own for there own use?

08/10/2015

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