The mother of Phoenix who was placed on the state’s child abuse blacklist for using medical marijuana while pregnant has won her legal appeal.
An Arizona Court of Appeals judge ruled Thursday that the woman, Lindsay Ridgell, should not have been placed on the Child Safety Administration’s Central Registry, overturning a decision by the Maricopa County Superior Court.
“I feel so happy,” Ridgill said. “He lifted a weight off my shoulder and I feel so free.” Phoenix New Times after judgment. “It means a lot to me and my family. I can finally get back into social work and hopefully get paid higher than I have in the past two years. In addition to finding more fulfillment at work, I miss helping people, especially children.”
The ruling, which the state can still choose to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court, is a major victory for Ridgill in the case national interest.
Over the course of a year, national groups such as the National Pregnant Women Advocates and the Academy of Perinatal Harm Reduction—and even comedian Amy Schumer—have submitted friend court briefs in support of Ridgill.
Julie Gonigel, currently a lead candidate for the Maricopa County District Attorney, represented Ridgell free of charge in the case. I told the new era I was happy with the ruling.
She’s basically saying Lindsay was right all along,” Gunnigle said — that she got “all the protections that AMMA has to offer.” [the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] progress.”
Appeals Court Judge Randall Howe, joined by two other judges, wrote in ruling that DCS erred when the agency accused Ridgill of child neglect for cannabis use during pregnancy. Ridgell had a valid medical marijuana card at the time, and a doctor had approved her use of the drug while she was pregnant with her son.
“A person could be placed on the central registry if her newborn was exposed to certain drugs, including marijuana,” Howe wrote in his opinion Thursday. “But only if that exposure was not caused by medical treatment provided by the health professional.”
In Ridgill’s case, he wrote, she clearly did.
The DCS Central Registry is an opaque system that tracks reports of child abuse or neglect that the agency considers “substantiated.” No one has to be criminally charged and convicted to gain access to the list. Ridgell, for example, has not been charged with a crime for using cannabis.
Registration is not publicly available. But it is used by DCS and other government agencies and companies to conduct background checks on potential employees. Applicants competing for positions that include “Direct Services to Children and Vulnerable Adults” must be filtered by DCS using the system.
Ridgell, a former DCS employee, would have been on the record for 25 years, a potentially serious blow to his future job prospects.
Her legal team argued that her inclusion on that list — as a legal medical marijuana user — was in violation of Arizona law.
Ridgell got her medical marijuana card a decade before she became pregnant. She suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, and cannabis alleviated her symptoms.
When she got pregnant in September 2018, she started having severe nausea recently. She was soon diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, or severe morning sickness, a rare condition It can cause serious complications If it is not treated.
During her pregnancy, Ridgill visited the emergency room several times and prescribed medications to deal with nausea. Furthermore, three months into her pregnancy, Ridgill renewed her medical marijuana card.
Records show that the doctor who approved the renewal knew Ridgill was pregnant and signed off on treatment specifically for Ridgill’s “chronic nausea”.
According to medical records, Ridgell did not tell the hospital or OB-GYN about her marijuana use later. The state took advantage of this fact to establish that Ridgell did not use medical marijuana under proper supervision by a physician.
Ridgill gave birth to her son in May 2019. Right after his birth, he experienced medical complications that required him to be resuscitated by doctors. He was then taken to Phoenix Children’s Hospital and tested for drugs.
As Howe wrote in his opinion, there is no evidence that marijuana caused Ridgill’s son’s postpartum complications.
But when the hospital discovered marijuana in a drug test, the staff there reported this to the Arizona Department of Child Safety. DCS began investigating the discovery as a child neglect case under Arizona law.
Ridgell told investigators about her medical marijuana card. But the agency quickly informed her that it had substantiated the allegations of negligence, and intended to put them in the central registry.
Ridgill appealed her case. While an administrative judge initially sided with Ridgill, the state refused to remove her from the registry.
DCS lobbied for its case in Maricopa County Superior Court. State attorneys argued that despite Ridgell’s medical marijuana card and despite her doctor being told she was pregnant, her use of the pot “was not the result of medical treatment given to the mother or newborn by a health professional.” The Supreme Court judge agreed that DCS’s actions were reasonable.
Thursday’s appeals court ruling upholds DCS’s argument. Howe cites AMMA’s broad protections for patients in his opinion, which, he wrote, clearly covered Ridgell’s use of the drug.
Howe noted that the law states that cannabis use under AMMA “should be considered equivalent to the use of any other drug under a physician’s supervision.” The law also contains a discrimination section, which forbids patients from any “denial of right or privilege” for their marijuana use.
Thus, DCS’s claim that Ridgell’s medical marijuana label does not amount to using medication under a physician’s care, is against AMMA.
Howe overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in the case.
Gunnigle said it was remarkable that the Court of Appeals gave a full opinion in Ridgill’s case, rather than just an accurate entry of their decision. “Obviously they thought this was an important enough issue,” she said, “and it could affect other issues.”
Gunnigle cautioned that the case may not be over yet.
DCS says, “The department is reviewing the legal ruling and considering our legal options,” which may include an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.