Drug War

New York City: Where Smoking Pot Can Cost You $100—and Your Kids


I missed this story a couple of weeks ago, but I don't think it's been mentioned here yet: The New York Times reports that New York City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) investigates hundreds of parents for neglect every year because they are caught with marijuana or admit to smoking it. The story opens with the case of Penelope Harris, a Bronx woman whose 10-year-old son and 8-year-old niece were taken away after a police search of her apartment (based on suspicions of drug dealing) turned up 10 grams of marijuana, which she said belonged to her boyfriend. In New York, possessing less than 25 grams of pot (about nine-tenths of an ounce) is not even a misdemeanor (provided you do not display it "in public view"); it's a citable offense similar to a traffic violation, punishable by a $100 fine. But it was enough for ACS to put Harris' son in foster care for more than a week. Meanwhile, her niece, whom she was raising as a foster child, was taken away for more than a year. ACS closed the investigation with no finding of neglect.

Here is how the Times summarizes the legal basis for these investigations:

State law considers a child neglected if his or her well-being is threatened by a parent who "repeatedly misuses"a drug. But the law does not distinguish marijuana from heroin or other drugs. The law says that if parents have "substantial impairment of judgment," then there is a presumption of neglect, but it does not refer to quantities of drugs.

"Drug use itself is not child abuse or neglect," says ACS spokesman Michael Fagan, "but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse." The same could be said of drinking, but ACS presumably does not investigate parents simply because they have alcohol in the house. ACS claims that in most cases involving pot-smoking parents, there is additional evidence of neglect or abuse. Defense attorneys say ACS often tacks on trumped-up neglect claims to bolster cases that are mainly about marijuana consumption, and they report "more than a dozen cases on their dockets involving parents who had never faced neglect allegations and whose children were placed in foster care because of marijuana allegations."

Survey data indicate that 12 percent of New Yorkers smoke pot at least once a year. That's 730,000 people, a substantial fraction of whom are parents. (About 27 percent of New York City households include minors.) Yet ACS is not exactly casting a dragnet for hundreds of thousands of possibly/presumptively unfit parents. "Over all," the Times reports, "the rate of marijuana use among whites is twice as high as among blacks and Hispanics in the city…but defense lawyers said these cases were rarely if ever filed against white parents." Even for parents who retain custody of their children, the investigation is stressful and humiliating, and a finding of neglect means they may not take jobs that involve working around children.

ACLU attorney Sara Rose reports that Lawrence County, Pennsylvania—notorious for snatching babies from their mothers based on positive opiate test results that seem to have been triggered by poppy seeds—has a policy similar to New York's regarding parents who consume marijuana. As Time health writer (and Reason contributor) Maia Szalavitz notes, the trauma of separating children from their parents is bound to cause far more damage than allowing them to be raised by people who smoke pot from time to time. This sort of mindless intervention makes a mockery of the "best interest of the child" standard that is supposed to govern the work of agencies like ACS.

[Thanks to Ethan Nadelmann for the tip.]

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  1. I seem to recall someone linking to this a couple of weeks ago.

  2. “Drug use exceeding the speed limit itself is not child abuse or neglect,” says ACS spokesman Michael Fagan, “but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse.”

    1. “Drug use

  3. But the law does not distinguish marijuana from heroin or other drugs.

    Well, DUH! Drugs are bad, m’kay?

  4. Living with children in NYC is proof of neglect.

  5. Man Accused of Assault With a Live Power Line:

    While danger from Mother Nature’s fury was blowing away from the region Sunday, police said a man-made act of road rage took place in Silver Spring, Md.

    A College Park man was accused of attacking a motorist with a live power line knocked down by Hurricane Irene. According to authorities, on Sunday a 32-year-old Richard Bialczak tailed a man with his car and then got out and attacked him.


    1. That’s awful in both senses (terrible and awe-inspiring) of the word.

  6. I saw some clinical psychologist on TV last night saying something about how we don’t do enough to prevent child abuse. The clear implication being that the government needs to step in more often.

    It’s one thing for us as a society to intervene when a kid is being beaten, sexually abused, starved, or something that is particularly egregious and dangerous to the kid’s health. But to intervene or even take away custody for anything short of that is tyranny, plain and simple. What’s next, putting kids in foster homes because the parents eat too much meat?

    1. It’s all part of the inevitable growth of government and its relentless, endless quest for more power. It is a function of government.

      You joke, but people joked about fatty foods just a few years ago too.

      1. Actually, this time I wasn’t entirely joking.

        I gotta tell you, the idea of the government coming to take my kids because it thinks I should be raising them differently is really scary. I’m a known libertarian, after all.

      2. yup. slippery slope arguments may be problematic, but when it comes to govt., they are always sliding down one slope or another, expanding their reach

        1. I think we should tax and regulate government.

    2. How much of this evil is the result of the reification of “society”, and the belief, given strength through the language we use, that “we” can do any given thing as a “society”? We cannot, “as a society”, take children away from parents; only people can do that, and many people will do that if they are given more power than is due them over the lives of people they do not know, especially when such officiousness provides justification for their disproportionate emoluments.

      1. It takes a village/police state.

  7. Surprised tobacco isn’t an indication of neglect. But I could be wrong.

    1. It is in some places; for instance, smoking in your car with a minor passenger. I believe New York (who else?) is working on–or has actually passed–such a law.

      1. Four other states have passed similar laws: Maine, Louisiana, Arkansas and California.


  8. Those parents in *Poltergeist* smoked dope, and look what happened!

    1. Dope smoking leads to maniacal clowns.

      1. Turn the phone off, bitch puddin.

          1. I see. A drive-by fapper.

  9. is there actually any… y’know EVIDENCE… that the mere smoking of mj by parents actually causes real harm to children?

    moreso than drinking (legal) alcohol?

    or spending all day blogging?

    of course not.

    but mj is TEH EVIL.

    this shit is fucking insane.

    end rant…

    1. I’m sure evidence can be planted.

      1. i saw what u did there… nice

  10. “”Drug use itself is not child abuse or neglect,” says ACS spokesman Michael Fagan, “but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse.””

    If that is the standard, then virtually anything can justify the seizure of one’s children.

    It’s times like this that I wonder whether those right-wing “Christian conservatives” who accuse the government of being out to undermine the family unit may be on to something after all.

    1. well, it does take a village of course. done under careful monitoring by the govt. of course.

      1. dunphy,

        What’s the blue reaction to the cop captured in flagrante delicto in uniform on the hood of a car?

        1. do i personally care? no. should he be punished? of course.

          even if he was on his lunch break 🙂 , it was inappropriate.

          1. Do you speak for all cops?

          2. I don’t want the on-the-record opinion; it’s got to be getting some good laughs. I mean, I thought it was hilarious–in uniform, no less!

            1. Speaking of that cop, it would be great if that’s how Obama goes down–nailing some chick while in presidential suit on the hood of the presidential limo. While snorting some coke off of the actual Constitution. On live TV.

              1. the most common response i have heard from cops is “well, was she hot?” etc.?

                1. The world should know soon, when she’s either interviewed on some gossip show or becomes a porn star. Fame is easy in this day and age.

  11. All your things are belong to government. That includes children.

  12. Hundreds of New Yorkers [in a city of over 8 million]…have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years….A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.

    It’s an epidemic! Literally “a small number” of parents “in recent years,” in a city of over 8 million individuals, have temporarily lost custody of their kids! I am not exaggerating!

    1. I am not exaggerating!

      Of course you aren’t; you’re not one of the Hundreds. Nice attitude!

      1. I’m not even one of the “small number.”

  13. You know, grew up in central NY and spent most of my life there. It is a beautiful place. It is such a shame that it is run by the worst people in the world. Both NY and CA are harbingers of what we are all in for if we continue on this trajectory. Incidentally, whatever kind of programming (I’m not remotely a ‘puter geek) or something Reason uses, but it has to change. It take forever to open any page here.

  14. Consider the possibilities of gaming the system by parents who want to get rid of their children.

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