Will Rosie Lose Her Kids Over a Joint?
The mention of Rosie O’Donnell’s marijuana use in her child custody case reinforces the stigma around pot and parenting—one that puts even those who use it medicinally at risk.
Michelle Rounds, Rosie O’Donnell’s soon-to-be-ex wife, is seeking full custody of the celebrity couple’s two children. One reason she deserves full custody, according to the claims, is because Rosie uses marijuana.
The subject of parenting and marijuana isn’t just a celebrity issue—and most certainly not one localized to recreational marijuana use. Medical marijuana patients also receive scrutiny, and not just in custody battles. Increasingly, these are cases handled by Child Protective Services.
The recent case of Shona Banda, a medical marijuana activist in Kansas, highlights the seriousness of the issue. Banda uses cannabis to treat her Crohn’s disease. She’s written a book and made a YouTube video about it. And when her 11-year-old son explained his mom’s medicinal uses during an anti-drug presentation at school, the state of Kansas didn’t take kindly to his knowledge sharing.
They took him from his family, and he is currently under the care of the state.
“The real issue is that state [medical marijuana] patient laws don’t protect parents,” says Shaleen Title, a Massachusetts-based attorney working on marijuana issues. “Parents are at risk everywhere.”
Raising the topic of marijuana around kids alone can put parents in danger—and not just when an angry ex points a finger in hopes of winning custody. Many parents risk losing their children simply because they have educated them on the topic.
Diane Fornbacher is publisher of LadyBud.com, a marijuana website popular with women. She’s been a marijuana activist for well over a decade, and is a mother of two.
During the course of her work advocating for a change to hemp laws (which prohibit domestic cultivation), she annually hosted a booth at a green environmental convention in her suburban Philadelphia town, where she gave away hemp foods, lip balms, and soaps, all perfectly legal in the U.S.—nothing that you couldn’t find at a Whole Foods. The goal, to educate those around her on hemp’s benefits, worked.
Her autistic 9-year-old son learned the benefits, and shared them with his class one day when they were talking about saving the earth. “That’s what brought CPS to my house,” Fornbacher tells The Daily Beast—her son sharing his knowledge of hemp’s environmental benefits. Worse, “the day they came to my house was the day we were going to my father’s funeral.”
Fornbacher says child protective services, and the school, interrogated her son with out her consent, and the school didn’t tell her that happened. She says during her son’s interrogation by the school and officials, he kept saying “hemp” but the teacher kept saying: “you mean marijuana.”
“My son was confused and stressed out because they kept trying to lead him to marijuana. He kept thinking it was his fault that his family was gonna get broken up.”
As a well-known activist, Fornbacher was able to call upon on one of the state’s premiere civil rights attorneys, and could also call on local members of the town council to come to her defense. Eventually, the district admitted it was wrong.
Most parents, she notes, don’t have those kinds of support systems. She also points out that most people aren’t as educated about their rights—the right to not let CPS into your home without an appointment or court order, for example. “They’re not looking for love,” says Fornbacher of CPS. “They’re looking for mistakes—which every parent makes.”
Fornbacher speaks from experience on the other side, too: She spent time in foster care as a child, and is thankful it was there when she needed it. “There are kids who need these services, but the criminalization of marijuana has made people ignorant and super anxious to find a culprit. Would my kids be better off in foster care? No. They were going to charge me with neglect simply because my son mentioned hemp in school.”
Sharon Ravert, the executive director of PeachTree NORML in Georgia, says that CPS is stealing kids from otherwise law-abiding parents, simply from hearing the kids talk about medical marijuana or hemp. “A lot of households are talking about it—whether they use it or not,” she says. “If the child speaks up about it in school, and they mention a pro-cannabis feeling, that’s pretty much the bottom line. It’s a threat to your First Amendment right. You’ll have a target on your back—especially if you’re an activist and you have kids. And they’re holding these kids hostage. It’s very difficult to get out of the system once you’re in it.”
Ravert says that in Georgia, one in every 13 people is under some form of state supervision. That doesn’t include people under the supervision of the Department of Family and Children Services. “We’re living in a police state,” says Ravert “and DFCS plays a key part in that.”
Like Fornbacher’s case, Banda’s case, and cases across the country, CPS is targeting kids for being educated. “Their time is being wasted,” says Fornbacher. “It’s a necessary organization that’s being abused in the name of the drug war. The war on cannabis threatens the family. It’s doing damage.”
Fornbacher says she hears from up to 10 families a week about the CPS issue in their own lives. There are no solid, nationwide numbers as to how many families are dealing with, or have had, this problem. LadyBud has a network of activists, where people are coming to tell their stories. Fornbacher is also active on the board of directors of Family Law and Cannabis Alliance, which has helpful information for parents dealing with CPS.
“What we’re trying to do as activists is, we’re trying to evolve our children’s future,” she says.
While the cornerstone of O’Donnell’s custody battle may not be marijuana, it’s a reminder that—despite its evolving legal landscape—marijuana is still deeply stigmatized.