Friday, August 19, 2011

Not enough pot for a crime, but enough for child abuse?

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If you’re a parent (and specifically one residing in New York City), take extra care not to be caught possessing the slightest amount of marijuana in your home, even if it isn’t enough to count as a misdemeanor (much less an actual crime), or you might just see your child-caring rights revoked:

The police found about 10 grams of marijuana, or about a third of an ounce, when they searched Penelope Harris’s apartment in the Bronx last year. The amount was below the legal threshold for even a misdemeanor, and prosecutors declined to charge her. But Ms. Harris, a mother whose son and niece were home when she was briefly in custody, could hardly rest easy.

The police had reported her arrest to the state’s child welfare hot line, and city caseworkers quickly arrived and took the children away.

Her son, then 10, spent more than a week in foster care. Her niece, who was 8 and living with her as a foster child, was placed in another home and not returned by the foster care agency for more than a year. Ms. Harris, 31, had to weather a lengthy child neglect inquiry, though she had no criminal record and had never before been investigated by the child welfare authorities, Ms. Harris and her lawyer said.

“I felt like less of a parent, like I had failed my children,” Ms. Harris said. “It tore me up.”

Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges, according to city records and defense lawyers. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.

New York City’s child welfare agency said that it was pursuing these cases for appropriate reasons, and that marijuana use by parents could often hint at other serious problems in the way they cared for their children.

Wow, that weed stuff is a heck of an all-in-one gateway drug, eh? First it leads to harder drug use, then to an assured life of criminal no-goodness, and now, to bad parenting. It’s almost like the powers that be are declaring what these outcomes are on a whim without paying attention to any actual statistics that may be cutting their legs out from under them.

Who knows. Not the families being torn apart by overzealous anti-pot bureaucrats over petty tribulations borne from acts that don’t even rise to meriting a slap on the wrist, certainly. And especially not White ones, who curiously only see a fraction of the charges applied to their darker-skinned counterparts.

(via @AdamSerwer)