Arizona’s highest court has issued a ruling that could remove some of the legal risks that still exist for parents in states that have legalized marijuana.
In 2019, Lindsay Ridgell, a pregnant woman living in Phoenix, used medical cannabis to treat hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a life-threatening condition that causes severe nausea and vomiting and can lead to a miscarriage.
After health care workers discovered signs of cannabis in a blood test after the birth of her son, Silas, Ridgell was reported to the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) and placed on the Arizona Child Abuse Registry. In the four years that followed, Ridgell was in court against DCS’s decision that her use of medical cannabis constituted neglect of her unborn child.
Leafly’s 2022 report on the issue, The Parent Trap: How Ancient Drug Laws Punish Families in Legal Cannabis States-Explore the implications for all parents and pregnant women.
On January 5, 2023, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down DCS’ final petition to appeal last year’s Arizona Court of Appeals decision, which unanimous Ruling that Ridgell’s use of cannabis did not constitute child abuse or neglect. The decision ends the case in favor of Lindsay Ridgell.
Along with removing Ridgell’s name from the register, the decision sets a precedent regarding the legal consequences pregnant and postpartum mothers can face for using medical cannabis. The ruling has no legal weight beyond Arizona, but its influence can be felt in political decisions and legal arguments in all legal states.
Medical cannabis should be treated like any other drug
May 2022 Arizona Court of Appeals’ Rule In the case of Ridgell v. DCS, which now stands as a result of the Arizona Supreme Court’s Jan. 5 decision, has determined that Ridgell’s maternal cannabis use does not constitute child neglect because Ridgell was a qualified cannabis medical patient who consumed cannabis under a physician’s supervision. Ridgell obtained its medical cannabis card in 2010, the same year that the state of Arizona legalized medical cannabis.
According to Judge Randall Howe, who issued a unanimous decision by a three-judge appeals court panel, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) clearly protects individuals with a state-issued card from penalties related to AMMA-compliant medical cannabis use. It remains undisputed that Ridgell possessed a legal medical cannabis card and was using cannabis under the supervision of a physician.
Just as DCS cannot penalize mothers who use prescription drugs during pregnancy, the Arizona Court of Appeals decided that DCS cannot penalize pregnant women with doctor-issued medical cannabis cards who use medical cannabis to manage a qualifying condition or symptoms like Ridgell’s.
In the weeks following the May 2022 decision, DCS appealed. On January 5, in response to their petition to appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court dropped To hear any other objections to the ruling.
Parents still lose their children due to outdated laws
As reported by Leafly last year, 23 states and the District of Columbia specifically classify prenatal exposure to controlled substances as child abuse or neglect, even though these states have recreational and/or medical cannabis programs. In some states, medical cannabis use, even without evidence of harm or danger to a child, is grounds for withdrawing custody.
In addition, lawmakers in some states are fighting to pass punitive legislation against women who use medical cannabis, such as the controversial one in Alabama. 324 This may require women of childbearing age to show evidence of a negative pregnancy test before receiving a medical marijuana card.
This outdated approach to parental use of medical cannabis is criminalizing pregnant women and tearing families apart across the US, which is why, Ridgell’s attorney Julie Gunegl said. Arizona Republicthe resolution in Ridgell v. DCS of national importance.
Ridgell’s ruling will make it more difficult for DCS to charge pregnant women with abuse and negligence when using legally obtained medical marijuana. This affects every parent who uses medical cannabis by setting a “higher standard” for child welfare agencies to claim parental neglect, beyond evidence of cannabis use alone.
This decision could also lead to a broader re-evaluation of child welfare policies when it comes to parental cannabis use. In 2022, both California And New York Passing new child welfare laws that protect parents from child abuse charges for cannabis use, in the absence of any reports of harm or danger to the child.
Close for Lindsay Ridgell
Due to her being placed on the child abuse registry, Ridgell, formerly a social worker at DCS, was fired from her job. I have had difficulty finding stable employment due to the limited job opportunities available to those registered with the State Register.
Ridgell started a new job in social work six months ago, and with the verdict in her favor, she hopes to be able to keep it. As for Silas, he is now a healthy and happy three-year-old.