The New York City Council passed two marijuana-related resolutions on Tuesday as part of a package of cannabis legislation that members of the body’s Progressive Caucus are pushing to advance.
One of the newly approved measures calls on the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to implement a policy “finding that a person’s mere possession or use of marijuana does not by itself create an imminent risk of harm to a child, warranting the child’s removal.”
Child custody issues are perhaps one of the most severe but largely overlooked implications of marijuana consumption—including in some jurisdictions where the drug is legal for medical or adult use.
Text of the New York resolution details racial disparities in cannabis possession arrests and emphasizes that ACS does not “automatically find that a child is in immediate risk of harm” if the parent or caregiver drinks alcohol.
In response to an article about the resolution’s passage, ACS tweeted that the department’s current policy “requires staff to assess the impact a parent’s substance misuse may be having on a child, regardless of whether the substance is alcohol, marijuana, etc.”
Our current policy requires staff to assess the impact a parent’s substance misuse may be having on a child, regardless of whether the substance is alcohol, marijuana, etc. The use of cannabis in and of itself does not equate with risk of harm.
— NYC ACS (@ACSNYC) July 23, 2019
“The use of cannabis in and of itself does not equate with risk of harm,” ACS wrote.
The other measure passed by the Council implores the state legislature to pass a bill requiring the New York Department of Health to create hospital drug testing regulations for pregnant women or those giving birth, “including informing patients of their rights before any discussion of drug use or drug testing.”
If a pregnant person tests positive for drugs, including marijuana, the hospital must report that to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, which prompts ACS to launch a child welfare investigation. The resolution notes that it’s unclear how hospitals enforce drug testing policies but that it appears to primarily impact “low-income women and women of color.”
Further, the resolution explains that research on the impact of cannabis use during pregnancy is limited, but that preliminary evidence suggests it “is not an independent risk factor for adverse neonatal outcomes after adjusting for confounding factors.”
Importantly, the lack of clarity around hospital drug testing policies could cause some women to voluntarily disclose information about substance use that can have “child welfare ramifications.”
“Women should be encouraged to share their medical history, including drug use, with their health care provider without fear of a child welfare case being opened,” the text states.
“The lack of clear consent policy in Health+Hospitals system regarding prenatal and postpartum drug testing on mothers of color is extremely concerning to Caucus Members, and can lead to child separation and decades of collateral consequences for parents, whose child welfare investigation case can stay on their record for decades,” the Progressive Caucus wrote.
The Caucus explained that while it hoped the state would have legalized marijuana for adult use before the end of the session, it will continue to pursue reform measures aimed at promoting racial and gender justice.
Another example of such legislation was approved by the Council in April. A measure prohibiting most employers in the city from mandating drug tests for cannabis as a condition of employment passed and was enacted without the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature in May.
The Council also approved legislation this year that prohibits the city’s Department of Probation “from conducting drug tests for marijuana” on individuals on probation. Unlike the employment drug testing law, which goes into effect next year, this measure was immediately enacted, also without the mayor’s signature.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.