An Associated Press article that has been republished throughout the national media this week notes a growing trend in custody cases here in California and elsewhere: claims by one spouse/ex-spouse that medical marijuana use by the other renders that person an unfit parent.
Though focused mainly on Washington state, the piece quotes a representative of a California group, Americans for Safe Access, saying “her organization has received calls about 61 such cases” over the last four years.
Southern California child custody and visitation cases are often contentious. Parents play hardball with one another over Orange County, Los Angeles County and San Bernardino child custody issues. It is often only through aggressive legal representation that accused parents can avoid situations that rise to the level of California parental alienation and maintain the kind of relationship with their children that they want and deserve. The AP article cites several instances of fathers or stepfathers reduced to limited or supervised visitation with their children because they are medical marijuana patients. These court rulings have been issued despite a specific provision in Washington’s medical marijuana law mandating that authorized users “shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege.”
As the article details, these California and other state child custody disputes tend to turn on two issues: potential substance abuse and federal versus state law. Just as a judge can take alcohol abuse into account when determining custody, despite the fact that alcohol is a legal substance, so judges in states where medical marijuana use is permitted have the ability to consider accusations by one parent that the other is abusing the drug. Beyond that lies the fact that whatever various states say, marijuana use remains a crime under federal law. Though the feds have largely chosen not to pursue such prosecutions, this fact that marijuana use remains forbidden can leave parents involved in California custody disputes in a legal grey area if they are also medical marijuana patients.
These difficult issues are the kind of problems best addressed with the assistance of an experienced Orange County family law attorney. Medical marijuana and other potential substance use/abuse issues can be complicating factors in any Southern California child custody dispute. The best way to address them is with the help of an Orange County child custody lawyer who can defend your interests aggressively and, in doing so, help you maintain the substantive, loving relationship with your children that you deserve and they need.
NBC Bay Area: Medical marijuana weighing on child custody disputes