Last week Hollie Sanford, the Ohio woman who was separated from her newborn daughter because she drank cannabis tea to relieve pain and nausea while she was pregnant, was reunited with her baby after a judge overruled the magistrate who ordered the infant's removal. This week the American Medical Association proposed a warning label for marijuana products cautioning expectant mothers about the potential risks of consuming cannabis. In my latest Forbes column, I consider the evidence behind that warning and its relevance to the decision that Sanford made:
Since 1985 cigarette packages sold in the United States have carried four rotating warnings from the surgeon general, including this one: "Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight." Since 1989 the labels of alcoholic beverages have included this government-mandated warning: "According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects." This week the American Medical Association (AMA) proposed a similar label for cannabis products: "Marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding poses potential harms."
The proposed warning represents a concession to political reality by the AMA, which opposes marijuana legalization but seems to recognize that pot prohibition is inexorably crumbling. The AMA's wording is notably milder than the warnings for tobacco and alcohol—appropriately so, since the evidence that cannabis consumption during pregnancy can harm the fetus is less clear than the evidence that smoking and heavy drinking can. In any case, providing information about marijuana's hazards is surely preferable to the punitive moralism of the war on drugs.
The latter approach still prevails in most of the country, as illustrated by what happened to Hollie Sanford and her baby girl, Nova.