Pot-parents lose their kids

Across North America, children are being seized from their pot-smoking parents. Immigrant growers, med-pot patients and cannabis activists are being especially targeted by officials, who claim that marijuana makes unfit parents.
Ministry of child abductions

Last issue we reported how Vancouver’s Vietnemese community has been targeted for child abductions during grow-op raids. Over 40 children, described by authorities as being well cared for, were seized from their Vietnamese pot-growing parents in early 2000.

Since then, Vancouver cops have been taking out ads in Vietnamese-language newspapers, threatening the Vietnemese cannabis community with further abductions and deportation.

However, it’s not only the Vietnamese who are seeing their children torn from their arms?
It was December 3, 1999, and Michelle Olding ? of European decent ? had just given birth to “a perfect baby boy”. A resident of Duncan, BC, Olding uses marijuana to deal with depression, and as a preventative against a genetic predisposition to brain cancer.

She had told a social worker that she was using marijuana while she was pregnant. “They said that wasn’t a problem,” explained Olding. “They were going to leave the baby with me.” But before the day was through, almost before she had a chance to give her baby a name, the Ministry of Children and Families appeared to apprehend the child.

“I started breast feeding, and they said that because I smoke marijuana, my breast milk is tainted, and I couldn’t feed it to him anymore,” Olding told Cannabis Culture.

“My visits at first were unsupervised, and they were in the ministry’s office. The reason they put them supervised is that they thought I had nursed him behind their back. They said they could tell that he had received tainted milk, that he would ‘flip out’ and have a bad reaction.”

Meanwhile, hospital staff had warned social services that marijuana might act as a “sedative”, not something that would cause a baby to “flip out” at all. Had years of training blinded government workers to the fact that children get upset when they are taken from their mothers?
“The foster mother said that he preferred my milk to the other stuff they were feeding him,” said Olding.

After they took her child, government workers enrolled Olding in a twelve-step program designed to brainwash her against cannabis. “They said a joint is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes,” she explains. “They said there was nicotine in joints. They told me not to believe the books by doctor [Lester] Grinspoon.”

Inhospitable hospitals

The future of child abductions can be traced in the precedents that are being set in hospitals and government offices. On June 26, 1999 Matthew and Luretha Little of Washington State also lost their daughter, within 24 hours of birth.

Without Luretha’s knowledge or consent, hospital workers tested her and her newborn girl, Araminta, for cannabis. When it came back positive, doctors pointed the finger at Luretha for endangering her child’s life, blaming the presence of fluid in one of the baby’s lungs ? a minor and unrelated disorder ? on cannabis use. The baby was isolated from its mother in the nursery, and Luretha was not allowed to breast feed.

“After the first week we got the child back, but we had to sign a contract, with 13 articles,” Matthew told Cannabis Culture from a prison telephone. “They included mental health evaluations, piss testing, and letting the state come into our home at any time to look around.”

On August 28, 1999, Matthew and Luretha told their story to the crowds gathered to celebrate the Seattle Hempfest. “The Hempfest was on Sunday,” said Matthew. “By Wednesday, they had called us in for a piss test, on Thursday, they said in the letter that they ‘heard you went to the Hempfest.'”

The constant pressure eventually became unbearable for Matthew, who was imprisoned for, among other things, failure to comply to the terms of the contract that he was forced to sign to get his daughter back.

Leaked and lambasted

Sadly, it is often an ex-spouse seeking full custody of the children that invites government intervention.

Stephen Bacon, a resident of Ontario, blames the Canadian government for leaking a confidential list containing the names of people who received legal exemptions for medical marijuana. As of October of last year, Bacon’s name was on that list.

“I got a call from Health Canada that my name had been leaked, as well as my health and medical status, to a print journalist in Ottawa. I protested under official channels, and was told that the people they have investigating themselves are doing so. I want a class action lawsuit, but I can’t afford it.”

After he was “outed” by the government, his ex-wife refused him access to his 8 year old daughter, Laura, and hired a lawyer.

“They also sent letters to the school and the kids babysitter saying that If I show up to please call the police,” recalls a bewildered Bacon. “There is no restraining order. There is just some madwoman sending letters around because she doesn’t like marijuana. Reefer madness is what it is, sheer fear and ignorance.”

Stephen Bacon has been fighting for his life against Hepatitis C, and now he must also fight for his daughter in court. It should have been simple. Bacon had been illegally denied access to his daughter. His first appearance was on June 6. His ex-wife pointed the finger at him for using medical cannabis, and suddenly Bacon found that he was the one on trial. Bacon’s doctor, who had written him a recommendation for medical marijuana, refused to testify on his behalf.

“I don’t understand how a man is fit [as a parent]on Percodan and Valium and whatever narcotics and sedatives they decide to put you on, but on marijuana they decide you may not be fit,” questioned Bacon. “They want to psychologically analyze me first. Should I let them do that? Should I let them pick my brain over marijuana? Where do my rights as a human being begin?”

Society’s prejudices against cannabis seems to have blinded the courts to a truth that is obvious even to the eyes of a child.

“Do you remember the movie Stepmom with Julia Roberts?” asked Bacon. “The woman smoking marijuana in that movie is dying of cancer. My daughter saw that and I said, ‘the woman is very sick and it helps her to not throw up’ and my daughter said ‘oh, that’s good medicine.'”

So what will Stephen Bacon do if he is faced with the choice between marijuana and his daughter?

“The pharmaceuticals I was on poisoned me, created a toxic pool in my system and almost killed me. Then I started using marijuana. I’m putting on weight, I’m happy and I’m recovering.”

Should he stop using marijuana, it is likely that Bacon’s life expectancy would decrease dramatically, that he may quickly become too sick to take care of his daughter or even travel to see her. If Stephen is declared an unfit father because he legally uses medical cannabis, other Canadians exemptees will also be at risk having to make a choice between their health or their children. The leaked list could be used in a country-wide sweep to scoop up the children of legal medical users.

Deadbeat abductions

Medical cannabis user Debra Cannistraci, who lives in California’s San Joaquin County, was also threatened by an ex-spouse for custody of her 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, two days after holding a vigil for jailed cannabis researcher Todd McCormick. According to Cannistraci, the father hasn’t paid child support or even seen the children for over nine years.

“The father is a dead beat dad, so it makes it a little bit easier,” reflected Cannistraci. “But he is using the medical marijuana issue and that makes it very hard. He entered the vigil information, and a copy of my webpage ? so I had to take it down for now.”