Despite the legalization of marijuana in New York, child welfare agencies continue to report bias in family courts, with parents being separated from their children due to marijuana usage. These parents are often a part of minorities, a trend that has been ongoing ever since the start of the war on drugs.
When marijuana was legalized earlier this year, many lawmakers argued that racial equity was one of the main perks behind this decision. The data that’s available doesn’t seem to support these statements.
Gothamist interviewed parents who had been affected by these decisions and had a look at court documents that showed that despite marijuana being legal, the drug continues to play a factor in family separations.
“Half of those interviewed at length were parents who said it has felt impossible to extricate themselves from deeply rooted biases in the child welfare system surrounding marijuana use, specifically toward people of color,” says Gothamist. “Those interviews, along with records from family court cases, suggest marijuana continues to be used both to help separate children from their parents and keep families apart in long-running family court cases.”
The state’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) claims marijuana is never the sole reason why a child is separated from their parents, but this is a difficult claim to verify since family court cases have more protective layers. According to the agency, drug and alcohol claims are often lumped together, making these issues difficult to differentiate.
A spokesperson for the agency said the purpose of their investigation is to “assess the impact any misuse has on child safety.” This data is then reviewed by a family judge, who makes the decision to put the child in foster care if necessary.
Many lawyers and family members who were interviewed claimed the ACS’s attitude regarding marijuana hasn’t changed in years, even when talking about medical marijuana, which was approved in New York in 2014. They say there’s an assumption from the agency that using marijuana of any sort is linked with mental instability.
Marijuana legalization in the US is often a bureaucratic process, one that takes years and years to settle and find its groove. Still, when talking about racial equity, a topic that’s been called a priority in New York, it’s pivotal for the government to do its part and fulfill its promises.