THE BLOG

Mother Fighting for Custody, Son Taken by Police After Classroom Comments About Marijuana's Benefits

04/17/2015 04:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

A mother already suffering from a debilitating medical condition now must fight the state of Kansas to maintain her parental rights.

Shona Banda, a well-known activist, published a book "Live Free or Die" detailing how she found relief from Crohn's disease after using cannabis oil. Banda's primary concern now is keeping custody of her son. This because her son's school contacted child protective services after he attempted to argue about the harms of marijuana during a classroom talk. Child Protective Services then removed Banda's son from the school.

This story may seem ridiculous to some.

The reality is this happens all the time in our country and it is a lesser-known atrocity of the drug war. Due to mandatory reporting requirements, the staff at the school may have been under a duty to involve Child Protective Services if Banda's son admitted marijuana was in his home. This type of blanket approach is rarely in the immediate best interests of the child and reflects the immense amount of stigma associated with illicit drug use.

The DOJ has funded a national campaign to protect "drug endangered children" since 2010 as part of National Drug Control Strategy. And despite likely good intentions, these policies often play out in a disastrous, punitive and discriminatory fashion.

While we fully support protections for child welfare, safety, and health, we also recognize there are current policies in place that assume neglect based on the mere presence of an illegal substance. These child protective policies are based on federal law and what happened to Ms. Banda is capable of happening in Colorado, Washington or Oregon, despite years of medical marijuana and now legal adult use in those states.

Parents should be judged for their parenting, not for what substances they use, medically or otherwise. Many parents have pain medications, alcohol, weapons, cleaning products and other dangerous substances in their home. If the mere presence of these substances and objects alone do not constitute child neglect or abuse, neither should the mere presence of marijuana.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 82 percent of substance users in 2012 did not display signs of dependency or abuse of illicit substances. Even in cases where people might be classified as drug dependent or abusing, this does not necessarily equal neglect. People who use drugs are capable of being nurturing, loving, caring and responsible parents. Just as parents who drink alcohol or hunt deer.

On 4/20, Ms. Banda will be in court fighting for her parental rights due to using a substance to alleviate symptoms of Crohn's disease while others across the country are celebrating the substance. Let's hope the day ends in a celebratory fashion for her as well.

The federal government should review law, policy, culture and practices regarding child welfare. The intersection of child welfare and drug policy is an area that demands more attention from drug policy and criminal justice reformers.

Art Way is the Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.