After finding roughly 10 grams of marijuana in a woman’s home in the Bronx, police tipped off child welfare. In New York, possession of such a small amount of pot is a civil offense, so no charges were filed against the woman. Nonetheless, child welfare removed her 10-year-old son and 8-year-old niece from her home, placing each in foster care.


The ensuing investigation revealed that the marijuana belonged to the woman’s boyfriend (she tested negative for drugs), yet her son still spent over a week in foster care. Her niece was in foster care for over a year. Children’s Services only agreed to allow her child to return home if she agreed to “enroll in therapy and submit to random drug screenings.”


Some parents aren’t that lucky. Many have had lengthy battles with Children’s Services over neglect cases without ever even facing criminal charges. Some have lost custody of their children.


Given New York’s relatively lenient punishment for minor marijuana possession, some view child welfare’s pursuit of neglect cases as an alternative way of punishing parents who smoke pot.


According to state law, neglect occurs if a child’s well-being is imperiled due to repeated drug use. However, the law makes no distinction between the drugs being used or the quantities of the drugs. So a parent who has a $5 bag of pot could potentially lose custody of their child as easily as a parent running a meth lab. The New York Times describes a young father who lost custody of his daughter after a nickel bag of marijuana was found in his room at a homeless shelter.


New York state law doesn’t even require authorities to catch parents in the act of using or possessing drugs – admitting to using drugs in the past is enough evidence for child welfare officials to pursue a neglect case.


In New York, hundreds of child neglect cases are brought each year, often involving recreational users. At Family Court in Brooklyn, it is estimated that 90 percent of cases alleging child neglect due to drug use involve marijuana – nothing harder.


Even if accused parents are allowed to keep their kids, neglect findings are tough to shake. They stay on parents’ records until their youngest child turns 28. Neglect findings can also prevent parents from working around children.

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