California Court Rejects County Supervision Of Parent For Medical Marijuana Use

A California appeals court last week rejected mandatory parental supervision of a father who uses medical marijuana, finding that his consumption of the drug does not make him unfit to care for his child, nor does it justify the random drug screens, drug counseling or parenting classes mandated by the lower court. In the unanimous three-judge ruling, the court distinguished between “use” of marijuana and “abuse,” and concluded that the lower court had produced no evidence that the father, “Paul M.,” was a poor parent, nor that he was abusing marijuana:

DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services] failed to show that father was unable to provide regular care for Drake due to father‘s substance abuse. Both DCFS and the trial court apparently confused the meanings of the terms ―substance use and ―substance abuse. The statute is clear, however, jurisdiction based on “the inability of the parent or guardian to provide regular care for the child due to the parent‘s . . . substance abuse,” must necessarily include a finding that the parent at issue is a substance abuser. […]

Although “even legal use of marijuana can be abuse if it presents a risk of harm to minors,” a jurisdictional finding … based merely on such usage alone without any evidence that such usage has caused serious physical harm or illness or places a child at substantial risk of incurring serious physical harm or illness is unwarranted and will be reversed.

Paul M. testified that he consumes marijuana several times a week to manage his chronic arthritis pain, but that he never smokes in front of the child and leaves adequate time between consuming marijuana and driving to avoid impaired driving. The court found that the “record shows that Drake was well cared for by his father.” Nonetheless, the trial court had placed him under county parental supervision last year because of his medical marijuana use.


Paul M.’s lawyer told The Huffington Post that the ruling is the first to distinguish between “use” and “abuse” in juvenile dependency law. The case is the latest test for users of marijuana in states where it is legal, who not only face potential consequences from federal marijuana prohibition, but also from government, employer and university drug policies that impose their own rules about use. The court’s distinction between “use” and “abuse” — embodied in the state’s child welfare statute — reflects the growing consensus that total drug prohibition policies are ineffective in achieving actual public health and safety goals.