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Are you a Missouri resident who's considering enrolling in the state medical marijuana program? If you have children, you may be asking yourself: can medical marijuana affect my child custody rights? Treatments using medical marijuana may be just what you need for your health conditions, but that doesn't mean you should rush into it. That is, not until you know how becoming a medical marijuana patient will affect your parental rights.
And hey, that's a perfectly reasonable concern for all parents. Historically, a parent's substance use has always come under consideration by family courts before making any decisions regarding child custodial and visitation rights. As a result, many parents have probably asked themselves, "could my medical marijuana card affect the custody of my children?"
However, unlike many other states who've legalized medical marijuana, Missouri did not include any specific language in Amendment 2 (the constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medical use) that gives MMJ cardholders any explicit protections against child custody decisions being made based on their medical marijuana use. That's not to say that using medical marijuana will result in a family court terminating your parental rights. It's just that Missouri medical marijuana patients should be aware that there are still many questions related to the use of medical marijuana that have yet to be decided by the courts and the legislature.
We know we're still in some uncharted territory at the moment, but in this article, we'll try to fill the gap and answer your questions regarding Missouri medical marijuana and parental rights.
What Does Missouri's Amendment 2 Say About Parental Rights?
So what does Amendment 2 have to say about parental rights, anyway?
Well, unfortunately, it doesn't actually address the issue. As of 2020, the legalization of medical marijuana in Missouri is still a very recent development. As such, there are several areas that the legislation hasn't touched on. Notably, the question of medical marijuana patients being drug-tested at work and how a medical marijuana card could affect a patient's custodial rights to their children.
Many other states where medical marijuana is legal stipulate explicit protections for medical patients in these areas. However, the State of Missouri has not. Now, that's not to say that family courts will use a parent's status as a medical patient against them. There have been precedents established by the Missouri Court of Appeals, which have ruled that the use of marijuana is not grounds for the termination of parental rights. But that doesn't mean it can't still emerge as an issue during child custody battles.
The specific questions regarding parental rights and medical marijuana will undoubtedly be decided by future court cases and legislation. However, as of now, there is still a bit of uncertainty when it comes to medical marijuana and child custody.
How Do Missouri Family Courts Determine Custody?
Missouri Family Courts, like many family courts throughout the country, rely on several different factors while deliberating child custody issues.
Some, but not all, of the matters they consider are:
- The wishes of the child’s parents regarding who gets custody;
- The child's need for a regular and lasting relationship with both of their parents;
- How willing and able each parent is to execute their duties as an individual parent;
- The interactions between the children with their parents, siblings, and others who can affect the interests of the child;
- The child’s adjustment to the parent's residence;
- The mental and physical health of each party, including any history of abuse, neglect, etc.
Can the State of Missouri Take Away Parental Rights From Medical Marijuana Patients?
No, there's nothing to stop the Missouri family courts from making custody determinations against parents who are medical marijuana patients. That's not to say that the courts will make those rulings on the sole basis of a parent having a medical marijuana ID, but they still can if they want to for now.
It must be remembered that the use of medical marijuana is now a constitutional right of qualified Missouri residents, so the prospect of the courts terminating parental rights because a parent has a medical marijuana ID is dubious. As we mentioned, the Missouri Court of Appeals did rule that the use of marijuana by a parent was not grounds for the termination of parental rights if the marijuana use does not constitute a "chemical dependency." And this ruling was made in 2016, so the marijuana use in this particular instance was recreational and illegal.
As such, it's highly unlikely a family court would terminate parental rights solely on the status of being a legal, medical marijuana patient.
But that doesn't mean it can't still happen or become a larger problem in the context of a custody battle. It must be remembered that Amendment 2 doesn't include any explicit protections against such a termination. It's plausible that courtroom arguments can be made that medical marijuana is used so much that it affects a parent's abilities to parent, could constitute neglect, or present a danger to the child. All of which are taken into consideration by the courts when deciding custody matters.
Medical Marijuana Must Be Used Responsibly to Avoid Child Custody Problems
Despite the uncertainty surrounding medical marijuana and parental rights, Missouri patients must act responsibly with the use of their medicinal cannabis to best protect themselves from issues in family court. As we mentioned, a family court taking action against a medical marijuana cardholder is most likely going to be tied to issues relating back to child endangerment, neglect, or past criminal behavior.
Therefore, those Missouri medical marijuana patients with children should always act in accordance with the regulations under Amendment 2 to best protect their parental rights.
Under no circumstances can a medical patient's medical use produce an unreasonable danger towards the safety of their children. Medical marijuana must be stored properly in child-resistant containers that are labeled with the individual dosage, according to the law.
A medical marijuana patient should also never drive after using medical marijuana. In fact, a parent can be charged with first or second-degree endangerment of a minor under Missouri law if they operate a motor vehicle with a child passenger while under the influence of marijuana.
A family court will not take kindly to such a conviction while deliberating custody issues. While it is the constitutional right of Missouri residents to become medical marijuana patients, its irresponsible use can result in the courts terminating a patient's parental rights.
Hope on the Horizon with HB 2715
A new bill, HB 2715, has been introduced to the Missouri legislature that would eliminate the ability to remove parental rights based on medical marijuana use alone. The bill would also prevent the family court from requiring parents to refrain from medical marijuana treatment if they need it.
The bill was introduced by Representative Wiley Price, and is at the very beginning stages of the legislative process. If you'd like to see the bill become law, you can call your representative and tell them to support HB 2715.
What to Do if a Missouri Medical Patient has a Child Custody Problem?
At the end of the day, Missouri medical marijuana patients should always remain aware of the possibility that their medical marijuana use could come up in family court. Patients should always contact an attorney knowledgeable on both Missouri family law and the issue of medical marijuana to best protect their parental rights.
As we've mentioned, there are many related questions a family court can raise regarding a medical patient's ability to exercise their visitation and parental rights. Past occurrences of driving under the influence, prior convictions, instances of child endangerment, or even a patient's marijuana use inhibiting their ability to parent properly are all potential problems that can emerge within the context of a custody battle. Your parental and custodial rights are too important to risk.
This is why it is vital to find qualified legal counsel to guide you through your child custody cases. They'll be able to protect your custodial rights, and guarantee that your use of medical marijuana is presented in a fair and just manner.