A Bronx mothers marijuana use resulted in the city taking her baby. Now New York is paying her $75,000 as a settlement in a discrimination lawsuit. Read on to find out the details.
Mothers Marijuana Use Leads to Baby Taken Away
Chanetto Rivers had her baby boy taken away after he was born in August 2021 after she tested positive for cannabis use. New York’s Administration for Children’s Services forcibly took her son from her even though cannabis was legal in New York at the time of his birth and state law forbids family separation based on marijuana use alone.
A judge got involved in the case to reunite the family, but the ACS continued to pursue charges before finally withdrawing their claim.
“I didn’t just bring the lawsuit for myself, but for every Black family that ACS has ripped apart,” Rivers said. “They know what they did was wrong, and now they’re on notice.”
The settlement requires the ACS to pay Rivers $75,000 plus legal fees.
The Day of the Birth: Baby Taken Away Due to Mothers Marijuana Use
When Rivers gave birth to her third child in 2021, she was thrilled by her family addition. But a happy occasion became a devastating one when the mothers marijuana use was revealed.
Things got ugly when she told doctors that she had smoked marijuana hours earlier at a family cookout. Subsequent testing revealed that both Rivers and her baby had marijuana in their systems. The baby was taken from her without her consent.
Two days later, Rivers found out the child welfare agency ordered the hospital not to release her baby to her.
Rivers fought the ACS decision. She spent much of the next week visiting the court. She finally got a judge’s order to regain custody of her son. But the trouble surrounding the mothers marijuana use was ongoing.
During the three months that followed, the agency continued monitoring her. They required her to take parenting and anger management classes. They forced her to take drug tests. Caseworkers would show up at her apartment unannounced, sometimes in the middle of the night.
Her lawyers claimed that Rivers was subjected to unfair scrutiny because she is Black.
Was the ACS Guilty of Discrimination?
“We are glad that Ms. Rivers was able to call attention to ACS’s deplorable history of racial discrimination against marginalized families- particularly those in the Bronx,” said Niki Jain, Director of the Impact Litigation Practice at the Bronx Defenders.
“This resolution shows that the ACS can no longer hide from accountability, and we will continue to fight alongside New Yorkers until ACS’s deliberate targeting of Black and Brown families ends.”
The ACS shot back defending its position.
“In all of our cases, including those with substance misuse allegations, we assess child safety on a case-by-case basis, looking at actual or potential harm to a child and the parent’s capacity to care for the child,” an ACS spokesperson said.
“State and city policy is that a parent’s use of marijuana is not in and of itself a basis for indicating a report of filing a neglect case. This means that a case should not be indicated solely because a parent is using marijuana, but instead, a child protective specialist should assess the impact, if any, on the safety and well-being of the child.”
Social Equity in Marijuana Laws
The Rivers case was complicated because it involved social equity. Social equity is a popular issue in marijuana use and legalization. It is well-known that minority communities have been disproportionately affected by marijuana laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union points out that, while marijuana use is about equal between blacks and whites, blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession. As a result, social equity programs are enforced throughout the country.
The official mission of these programs varies from state to state but they can be summed up in California’s Department of Cannabis Regulation’s statement as follows. The state social equity program promotes “equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities, and to address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs in those communities.”
Mothers Marijuana Use is Bad for Unborn Babies
Social justice aside, parents must be aware that a mothers marijuana use can be harmful to unborn babies.
When a mother consumes marijuana, the THC passes through her system to her baby and may harm the child’s development. Some studies show that a mothers marijuana use during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight and neurological issues. It can cause memory, attention, behavior, and problem-solving skills problems later in life.
Research has not linked a mothers marijuana use to an increased risk of miscarriage. However, one study showed it could double the risk of a stillbirth.
Secondhand marijuana smoke can also be harmful to babies.
It is unknown whether a mothers marijuana use can be harmful to babies that are breastfeeding. However, mothers who breastfeed are encouraged to refrain from using cannabis.
Some pregnant women use marijuana to reduce feelings of nausea related to their pregnancies. However, this is not a safe or recommended practice.
Parent Marijuana Use Later in a Child’s Life
Research shows six out of 11 parents say marijuana use keeps them calmer when parenting their children. Others have stated that it makes parenting more fun.
Although these are valid arguments, parents must still be careful not to smoke marijuana near their children due to health issues. They should also keep marijuana products out of their children’s reach.