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Veteran loses custody of children for using medical marijuana

856585-1452883559-wideBy Cody Fenwick From Care 2 Petitions

Tens of thousands of Care2 petitioners have signed a petition asking Kansas officials to return a veteran’s children who were taken away by Child Protective Service. This case is particularly heartbreaking, and reveals many flaws in our legal treatment of medical marijuana.

The case concerns Raymond Schwab, a navy veteran, who tried to move to Colorado to grow medical marijuana for himself and other veterans. Medical marijuna is legal in Colorado but not in Kansas, where he had been living with his wife and five of their children.

According to Schwab, a relative who was looking after his children during the move took the kids to the police station and reported Schwab for leaving his children to work as a marijuana grower. That day, in April 2015, Child Protective Services took custody of Schwab’s children, and he has only seen them three times since then.

Because protective service agencies usually avoid commenting on particular cases, we cannot be sure of the reasons Schwab’s children were taken away. The Kansas department of children and families did say to The Guardian that “children are not removed from the home for [parental] marijuana use alone.”

However, there appear to be plenty of cases of social services agencies taking children away from families when parental marijuana use was the primary consideration. CNN reported the story of Shawnee and Aaron, whose last names were withheld, who had their infant son taken away from them for 12 days. Police were called to the house because of an argument, but they concluded that Shawnee and Aaron’s home was unsafe for the children due in large part to their possession and use of medical marijuana.

“I was pleading with them, ‘Look, you guys, I understand your perception, but we are wonderful parents, hardworking members of our community,’” Aaron told CNN. “They could not conceive of the fact that you can be a wonderful parent, a decent human being, and medicate with marijuana.”

Because federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, law enforcement frequently treats marijuana users the same way it would treat users of other drugs, despite the large differentials in potential for harm. In fact, it was only recently that the head of DEA admitted that heroin is more dangerous than marijuana. They continue to both be classified as “Schedule 1″ substances.

Moreover, the hypocrisy of taking children away from parents for using marijuana, when alcohol is well-known to be more dangerous by pretty much every measure, should be obvious to everyone.

But in Schwab’s case, there is a particularly bitter irony. Schwab has struggled with PTSD and chronic pain since serving in the Gulf war, and he ended up in rehab for an addiction to pain medication and heroin. Since breaking those habits, he’s found pot to be the most successful treatment for his symptoms.

Opioid addiction and overdose is widely recognized to be a much bigger problem in our country than marijuana use. By continuing to criminalize marijuana, and hanging the threat of losing custody over the heads of parents, we penalize parents like Schwab who make the rational decision to use marijuana to treat their health conditions rather than the much more dangerous opioids. In so doing, we likely make everyone, including children, less safe.

Photo Credit: The Free Thought Project

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