This Mother’s Day, CULTURE reports that the state of American mothers’ right to use cannabis is woefully poor, and we all have to fix it.
Even in the most progressive states, moms or their children can be screened for cannabis without their consent, and the results forwarded to welfare agencies. In less progressive places, women face mandatory drug screens, then jail if their newborn fails a THC test. And that’s just the beginning—literally.
As the kids grow up, moms who use cannabis can lose children to Protective Services, or in divorce proceedings, and face workplace discrimination, lack of access and stigma—for cannabis use alone.
None of the consequences seem proportionate to the known scientific harms of cannabis exposure, especially in comparison to legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, experts say.
“Even in states that allow legal adult-use or medical use of cannabis, mothers and pregnant women continue to face devastating legal risks if they use cannabis, including losing their children,” reports Shaleen Title, representative of Moms United to End the War on Drugs. “This is outrageous.”
Equal To Heroin
Every mom who has cannabis in the house is the parent of a federally designated “drug endangered child.” So keep your edibles locked up, or they will take your kids away.
Since 1971, cannabis became a federally illegal, “Schedule I” drug, treated as though it is as dangerous as heroin. No matter the state law, federal funding warps the states’ perspectives.
Women on welfare who give birth are a target for drug screenings in at least 15 states, even though welfare recipients use drugs at a lower rate that higher-income earners. New laws to combat methamphetamine abuse in the ‘90s, and efforts to combat the prescription opioid epidemic have also driven new punishments. Cannabis often gets swept up in the hysteria.
According to the state of Colorado, “Marijuana is now legal for adults over 21. But this doesn’t mean it is safe for pregnant moms or babies. Some hospitals test babies after birth for drugs. If your baby tests positive for THC at birth, Colorado law says Child Protective Services must be notified.”
America’s punitive treatment of moms is out of proportion to the known harms of cannabis exposure, many experts state.
“The research on the effects of cannabis on unborn children is at worst unclear, and at best shows it to be safer than other drugs prescribed to pregnant women,” Title said.
Five percent of pregnant women use cannabis. The American Medical Association said in 2013 that fetal exposure to THC has the “potential” to cause harm; a summary of decades of mixed findings.
At its worst, heavy fetal exposure to THC could be associated with some attention and learning problems and lower IQ. But even the National Institute on Drug Abuse—after decades of looking and millions in research—says THC’s effects are so subtle, they can’t be distinguished from confounding factors like diet, parenting or other drugs.
The strongest pregnancy warning states can muster refers to the plant’s “potential” to cause harm. But that’s versus alcohol and tobacco or anti-depressants, which we know, 100 percent, “can cause birth defects,” premature birth, long-term deficits, and are fully legal.
Shaleen has lived the consequences. During her pregnancy, she had nonstop vomiting and was prescribed Zofran off-label. “I refused to take it because the physical risks seemed unclear,” she said.
“But even though I lived in a state that allows medical cannabis, I was too afraid of the legal risks to try cannabis. The result was absurd—I didn’t feel comfortable taking any medicine, and I ended up having to quit my job and lost 30 pounds in the first few months of my pregnancy,” she said.
Moms are subject to an unacceptable, gnarly patchwork of laws from state to state, and the “states rights” argument is no excuse.
It’s not enough that some states are allowed to legalize cannabis, and thereby lessen the persecution of a whole class of innocent women, while others may keep imprisoning moms for the presence of a substance scientifically shown to be safer than legal recreational drugs and prescription alternatives.
At a bare minimum, all 50 states must commit this year to legal language stating that “cannabis use on its own does not make a parent any more subject to sanction for child neglect or abuse than tobacco or alcohol use alone does.”
In 2015, Colorado rejected a ban on selling cannabis to pregnant women, because the science doesn’t support it. Legalization in new states like Pennsylvania—and hopefully Florida—will continue to spread the notion that medical cannabis use alone cannot be considered child endangerment.
Groups like “Moms United to End the War on Drugs” have also begun flipping the script on prohibition, the way women did at the end of alcohol prohibition.
“Many of the moms in this group have been through the worst tragedy a person can go through (losing a child) and they are taking action to ensure it doesn’t happen to others,” Title said. “They have some of the most powerful voices that you can hear, and you can tell people are listening as you see our culture gradually turning away from punishment-based approaches and starting to support non-judgmental harm reduction approaches.”
Parallels: Moms Against Alcohol Prohibition
Moms helped lead America into alcohol prohibition, before they led the way out.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union went from pissed off “Mothers Against Drunken Dads” to a potent political force, working up from local alcohol bans to the Constitution of the United States. Prohibition began January 19, 1920.
With 1,000 Americans dying every year from tainted liquor, and widespread corruption of all levels of law enforcement, women reversed course. The Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) in 1929 campaigned on protecting families from the crime, corruption, and secret drinking prohibition had created, and returning decisions about alcohol to families, where they belonged.
With a secular, modern, rich and fashionable look, WONPR became the largest female repeal organization, even attracting disillusioned prohibitionists.