Even in 2013, Parents Who Use Marijuana Risk Losing Their Kids

"This feels like the worst nightmare that I have ever had and no matter what I do I can't wake up."



On April 23 Lindsey and Josh Rinehart were driving back to Boise, Idaho, after a hiking trip when they got a frantic phone call: Police were searching their house. By the time the Rineharts made it home, their babysitter was a mess, and their two children—along with the children of a friend who'd gone hiking with them—were gone.

Here's what happened: As the Rineharts and their friend Sarah Caldwell were returning from their trip, Boise police were following up on a tip from a school administrator who reported that an 11-year-old student, not related to either Caldwell or the Rineharts, had gotten sick from eating marijuana. According to a statement released by the Boise Police Department, "witnesses" told them the marijuana came from the home of the Rineharts, who both happen to be prominent medical marijuana activists.

Police went immediately to their house, where they demanded that the babysitter let them in. After checking on the kids (Caldwell's two sons and the Rineharts' two sons, all of them fine), police commenced snooping through the house without a warrant. They struck gold in Lindsey and Josh's bedroom and freezer, where they found "drug paraphernalia, items commonly used to smoke marijuana, and a quantity of a substance that appeared to be marijuana in locations inside the house accessible to the children."

Lindsey Rinehart used that marijuana to treat her multiple sclerosis, but Boise police nevertheless contacted Idaho Health and Welfare officials, who put all four children "in the protective custody of the state until it can be determined they are in a safe environment."

While the Caldwell boys were returned to their mother a few days later, the Rineharts had to wait a full week before the court granted them a single supervised visit with sons Elijah, 5, and Laustin, 10.

After nearly two weeks without her children, Lindsey Rinehart posted on Facebook, "This feels like the worst nightmare that I have ever had and no matter what I do I can't wake up."

She's not alone.

While there's no national count on how many parents lose custody of their kids each year due to marijuana, Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told The Daily Chronic earlier this month that his team gets calls "three or four times a week from people who have lost custody of their children because they tested positive at birth or in a situation where parents are feuding over custody." In 2011, The New York Times reported that "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." In 2010, Americans for Safe Access told CBS that it had received 61 calls since 2006 from medical marijuana users who had their visitation rights threatened.

Activists say those numbers on the rise. "It's something we're hearing about more often now than we used to," says Amanda Reiman, California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, largely because policy hasn't kept up with cultural changes—even in states that have adopted medical marijuana laws.

"If [illicit] drugs are found in the home there has to be immediate action," says Reiman. "This is based on the false presumption that the presence of marijuana poses a danger. We know that there are things in the home—prescription drugs, cleaning supplies, knives—that are not necessarily indicative of child endangerment. And if someone is a licensed gun owner and has a gun at home, that's not necessarily a danger to kids." Social workers simply aren't allowed to extend that discretion to marijuana.

And the story is seldom all that different in states that allow medical marijuana. Why? Because no piece of medical marijuana legislation includes protections for parents.

"You have a medical marijuana law, but how that affects different areas of the same code isn't clear," says Chris Lindsey, a Montana-based medical marijuana attorney and legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. (Also: a father of one.)

"For instance," Lindsey adds, "the law says you can consume marijuana if a physician says you can. But what if that patient is pregnant? What is the hospital supposed to do if they think a child is at risk? You don't have the guidance of the law when making these decisions. If they don't like the person, if they don't believe that marijuana is medicine, that's how they make their decision."

Reiman concurs. "Even though medical marijuana patients don't have any formal protections, being in a state where you can obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana is definitely helpful." In states without medical marijuana laws (like Idaho), Reiman says that custody decisions are "really going to come down to how the judge feels about marijuana. And that's unfortunate."

Even though the deck is stacked against them, there are steps pot-using parents and their attorneys can take to preserve parental rights.

"One rule is that you need to make sure that you are not impaired as a parent," Lindsey says. "That's no different than alcohol. The department of family services in any state does not want parents that are so drunk that they can't take care of their children. That does not mean parents can't have a glass of wine."

Another rule: Keep pot where kids can't easily get to it. "Parents aren't expected to have a gun safe for their medicine. But a marijuana cookie shouldn't be kept on the bottom shelf. There's a line there."

When all else fails—and it often does for poor parents and parents of color—it's important to frame these incidents in a way people who don't use marijuana can understand. Not too long ago Lindsey had a case similar to the Rineharts'. A teenage girl was staying with a sitter while her parents were out of town. One day she snuck back to her house without her sitter's knowledge, and stole a few of her parents' marijuana edibles, which she then took to school. All hell broke loose when she got caught, and her parents came under fire.

"When children do things that they know they're not supposed to do, to what extent are parents culpable for that? You can't chain your kids to the bedpost at night," Lindsey says. "In that case I argued that we've got a young child who raided the liquor cabinet."

It's been more than two weeks since Laustin and Elijah Rinehart were taken from their parents. Thanks to an understanding social worker, the Rineharts now get to have the boys after school until 6 p.m., when they are returned to their foster home. Unless the district attorney decides to press felony charges against Lindsey and Josh, they're likely to get their kids back. 

"Not treating with cannabis does suck though," she wrote on Facebook. "Pain levels are rising, muscle spasms, 'sagging' around right side of my mouth is starting, same with my right eye."

It's a compromise she's willing to make, but shouldn't have to, says Reiman. "What has happened to those kids as a result of being taken from their home and put in foster care? That needs to be measured against the impact of living with a parent who uses medical marijuana."

NEXT: NJ Prosecutor Embroiled in Police Disability Controversy

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Riggs, you have provided me with Salvation!!!

    The children will be removed, even if I make the call?

    1. -3 (kids…for me)

    2. up to I looked at the bank draft that said $5552, I be certain that my mom in-law truley making money parttime at there labtop.. there brothers friend has been doing this 4 only about 17 months and just now paid for the morgage on there mini mansion and got a great Volkswagen Golf GTI. read more at
      (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

    3. until I looked at the check that said $9995, I be certain …that…my friend woz like realie taking home money in there spare time from their laptop.. there mums best friend haz done this less than fifteen months and just now took care of the morgage on their villa and purchased a great new Jaguar XJ. I went here,

    4. Evan. I just agree… Patrick`s report is impressive… last tuesday I bought a great Volkswagen Golf GTI after I been earnin $8978 this-last/5 weeks an would you believe $10,000 last-munth. it’s realy the easiest-job Ive ever done. I began this 3 months ago and immediately got me over $73 per-hr. I went to this website
      (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

  2. I imagine once she gets them back she will move to CO or WA, no? Who in their right mind would pay taxes to a local and state govt that seizes and endangers your children?

    1. Yeah, at least Washington’s nearby.

      I got my kids through the foster care system. One had a mom who was a heroin junkie and the other’s parents were just abusive. I’m just glad they weren’t taken from parents who were just casual, responsible pot smokers… I would’ve felt real bad about that, honestly.

  3. “We haven’t had a very collective notion of, these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities…”

    No dogs were harmed in the execution of this battle in the War on Drug Users.

    1. That’s got to be one of the most revolting collectivist notions ever. It’s like something Ellsworth Toohey would write.

      1. Yes, people are always telling me that the characters in THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED are unreal, then I turn on the news and hear govt./media/academic types speaking like Rand wrote their dialogue for one of her novels.

    2. Yes “our” children means we deny the actual biological parents any contact with them.

      Makes perfect sense.

  4. Alcohol is much more dangerous than pot. I guess if CPS finds a fifth of vodka in your kitchen, you’re endangering the chirrens.

    1. Cigarettes and alcohol are demonstrably bad mmkay, mmkay? Because Nanny State makes revenue.

      Pot doesn’t create revenue. And not having revenue is bad, mmmkay?

      So, in summary – booze and smogs are mmkay, and pot is bad. MMkay?

    2. Erm… these cunts will find waaaay more liquor than that in my house. And, my children adore me. I’m quite broken in a good way by my children’s devotion to me. Obviously my enjoyment of booze hasn’t reflected a single whit on my relation to the offspring.

  5. How the hell does an 11 year old “get sick” from eating cannabis? Eating five ounces of reggie?

  6. The state can’t compel you to shut the fuck up about legalizing marijuana because of the First Amendment. They can seize your children and make you jump through CPS hoops, all the while suggesting that if you divest yourself from “The Devil Weed” you can have your kids back.

    It’s old feudal notion of hostage-taking for good-behavior in the 21st century.

    1. Seeing as how there is no constitutional protection against having your kids seized, in the not too distant future this will be used against all “anti-government” types. We can have kids being exposed to dangerous ideas.

  7. I thought we lived in a free country? People trying to take my children is why I own guns, and I’m not even kidding.

    First step, never let these people into your home.

    I really don’t even understand how social workers seem to have more power than judges in our society. Where is judicial review in these cases? Even a crazy person who is committed has the right to challenge that in court within a week.

  8. “Social workers simply aren’t allowed to extend that discretion to marijuana.”

    Normally I’m totally against policies that rob workers of autonomy while they do their jobs, but with social workers, I have to make an exception. If you give them any leeway, they’ll go batshit crazy. For the children.

    1. Right. That line stinks of bullshit to me.

      You’re not allowed to use discretion? BULLSHIT. You’re just looking for a CYA excuse to throw your weight around, you fucking bitch cunt bullies. Nosy busy-body bitches whose sole reason for existing is a sadistic desire to punish other women for trivial bullshit – just because they can.

      Come the revolution, social workers are my candidates for first ones up against the wall.

  9. Having kids has made me way more libertarian.

    1. Having kids has made me way more libertarian.

      Please elaborate

      1. I always wondered how in hell will there be any women that support conservative or republican views??? then again there are women who sell their bodies and do disgraceful things for money…there you go.

  10. It is kind of funny because the standard thing you hear people say is “wait till you have kids, then you will want such and such, more laws, stronger protections, blah blah” . It just seems that we now have more laws and regulations and a culture that seeks to strangle the adventerousness and economic possibilities for the children. For the children. The shit that I used to be totally allowed to do in the late 70’s, early 80’s would get me expelled now or my parents arrested. You cant just set your kids free to roam the hood and bounce around in the back seat of a car with their friends while you cruise down the road. Yeah, kids should be in carseats and not the backs of pickup trucks, but if you need to grab your friend’s kid for some reason and drive half a mile, you could be arrested for child endangerment if you put him in a seat belt instead of a car seat. The government is most likely the biggest predator that I would have to keep my kids safe from.

    1. Exactly… I have two kids now, and while I do want to keep them safe from the predators and negative influences out there, once they turn 18 I want them to be able to do whatever their heart desires, to experience, to experiment, to try things (safely, within moderation) without the fear of getting arrested. I’m far from those “lock her in the basement until she’s 30” parental types.

    2. We used to ride on the open tailgate all the time. Our Grandad would even drive us around on the old Ford tractor with us balanced precariously on the axle and fender.

  11. It would also warrant mention that I’ve read way more economics in the last four years and that has turned me pretty hard towards libertarian thought. It sucks when you see your kids’ futures being squandered away on gubmint largesse.

  12. And a last thought.. . the situation that these parents were put in is abominable . Yeah, we constantly hear an icy crapstorm of stories of people getting majorly screwed by the man, but this just fucking sucks. MS is a horrible disease. CPS taking her kids is downright beligerent.

  13. When the Rinehart’s situation was first mentioned on HandR April 25th, I immediately went to the WePay site and donated. Their account doesn’t appear to be there any longer. Anyone know why????? Or am I doing something wrong (I went to the April post by Mike Riggs and clicked on the link). Thanks.

  14. From what I have read of the Reinhart’s case, the child welfare people took the children by finding that they were in “imminent danger”.

    Now, if that is how the law is written – you can’t just take the kids unless they are in imminent danger – then that’s how the law SHOLD work. The problem is that they’ve gotten very loose and creative with what counts as an imminent danger.

    To most people “imminent danger” sounds like the parent beats the child regularly or is sexually abusing them. Not “the parent left his bong on the coffee table”. I suppose the idea was that, like the kid at school the kids might have eaten some marijuana. But does getting sick from eating something you shouldn’t have count as “imminent danger”? This is getting really far afield. IMO, it seems as if the CPS people are really stretching their authority beyond it’s legal bounds to take children just because there are things in the house that the kids could possibly injure themselves with.

  15. If marijuana is legal with a prescription, then it’s no different than any other potentially-dangerous prescription drug.

    Would the kids be removed from the home if there were a bottle of prescribed (and therefore legal) Vicodin or Tylenol-3 in the medicine cabinet? Would the kids be removed if it were prescribed (legal) marijuana instead of Vicodin?

    That’s the line between child welfare and discriminating against a medical condition right there. If the kids would be removed for one controlled but legal drug but not another, that’s discrimination.

  16. Hard to believe this happened in Idaho. If someone can have their children taken from them because of pot, then in places like Massachusetts the state will find an excuse to remove your children if you watch Fox news!

  17. The CPS workers only have the power that the family court judges give them. Remember that when you vote for a judge. They will stop taking kids when the judges don’t back up the children’s removal. The judges like to rip CPS when they don’t like what they do and that is what motivates them by and large.

  18. as Dorothy said I am startled that a person can earn $6392 in one month on the internet. did you read this link go to this site home tab for more detail— http://WWW.JOBS34.COM

  19. has anyone seen the episode of Seinfeld when they claim that there is a “bazaaro-world” where up is down, good is bad, safe is dangerous, dangerous is safe….wtf??? why is everything so frigging backwards???

  20. Saying the kid who ate the weed got ill is just plain lying. He got stoned.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.