No laws dictating marijuana consumption in child custody cases

Decriminalized drug still factor in child custody

DENVER - When voters approved Amendment 64 last November, it forced the State of Colorado to figure out how to regulate the consumption of marijuana.

A special Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force was set up to make policy recommendations about marijuana regulation to lawmakers. The task force has several more meetings scheduled for this week.

One topic that the task force is not covering is how marijuana consumption plays in child custody cases. 

Some experts in the matter are saying that additional statutes or guidelines aren't necessary.

"What we're looking for is whether or not substance abuse is affecting that parent's ability to keep the children safe," said Revekka Balancier, spokeswoman for Denver Human Services.

Balancier said her department has received more calls about marijuana consumption and the fitness of the parents as caretakers since Amendment 64 passed. Still, it isn't enough, in her view, to require changes.

"In most cases if someone calls us with a report that a parent is using and that is the only allegation it wouldn't warrant an investigation," Balancier said. "And for us it was really determined that our practices for keeping children safe are the same whether the substance is legal or illegal."

Rich Harris, president of The Harris Law Firm, says his firm has seen marijuana use being brought up by his clients.

"We're seeing more cases than ever where one parent or the other is being accused of being impaired with marijuana," he said. 

Once again, consumption of pot does not necessarily make someone a bad parent in the courtroom. 

"The passage of the amendment doesn't really change the way we look at the best interest factors in a custody case," Harris said. "If a parent is impaired, if a parent is not making appointments for their visits, they're not caring for a child, it's going to impact a child custody case, whether marijuana is legal or not."

Marijuana has been more of an issue in cases Judge Karen Ashby has presided over since medicinal marijuana laws passed several years ago. She said that was when it became less black and white in cases.

"In many ways we're treating it no differently and frankly haven't treated it any differently over time than using any kind of substance," said Ashby, who has been presiding juvenile court judge in Denver for over 14 years.

"We're not looking to intervene in people's lives just because they may be making what we consider to be making bad decisions or exercising poor judgment," she said.

Ashby said the topic of marijuana use is judged on a case-by-case basis. 

Harris said there are other substances, that have been legal much longer, that have at least as much of an impact on the care of child, like alcohol and prescription drugs.