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Can legal marijuana use cost you custody of your child?

One of the measures on the Massachusetts ballot Nov. 8, Question 4, concerns marijuana. Specifically, it would legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults. Massachusetts is one of five states voting on legalizing recreational marijuana this month. If the measure passes, it would take effect on Dec. 15. However, marijuana retail outlets may not open until 2018.

Some child welfare advocates are concerned about a provision in the measure that says that parents' use of marijuana can't be used as the primary basis for losing custody or visitation of their children without "clear, convincing and articulable evidence that the person's actions related to marijuana have created an unreasonable danger to the safety" of a child. The rationale is that many people use marijuana responsibly, and, just as parents aren't at risk for losing their children if they have an occasional drink, they shouldn't face that risk if they use marijuana to relax instead.

Those supporting that language in the measure point to Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012. People had their marijuana use used against them in child custody cases. One of the authors of the Massachusetts measure says, "Canna-bigotry in custody matters needs to end."

The state Department of Children and Families says that the language of the measure "could limit a social worker's ability to consider any substances, including marijuana, as a factor for child custody. However, other child welfare advocates argue that social workers can take into consideration any factors that they believe are endangering a child's welfare. One notes "Every use of a substance -- legal, illegal, prescription -- is going to be taken into account looking at parental capacity. That won't change."

While marijuana use alone would not be grounds for limiting a parent's visitation or custody, if it jeopardizes a child's safety and well-being, it could be. Whether a parent believes that his or her child's welfare is endangered because of the other parent's marijuana use or a parent is in the position of losing custody or visitation rights, it's essential to have an experienced family law attorney working on your behalf.

Source: Boston Globe, "Should marijuana use matter in child welfare cases?," Joshua Miller, Oct. 27, 2016

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