Are Increased Drug-Related Child Welfare Cases Related to Legalized Marijuana?

Law enforcement agencies across the country take child welfare seriously, and the criminal justice system does prosecute individuals for child welfare infractions. One such infraction involves the use of drugs while caring for children or in other situations where children can be negatively affected by such use. Even though recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, it is still a violation of the law to use the drug in a way that endangers the welfare of a minor, such as driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs with a child in the car. A recent article from the Denver Post notes that child welfare cases in Colorado that involve the use of drugs by a parent or foster parent have risen by around 2% between 2013 and 2015, but it may be difficult to link the increase in these cases to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Increased Abuse and Neglect Investigations

According to the article, while the link between legalized recreational marijuana and increased abuse and neglect investigations may be difficult to prove, a Joint Budget Committee staff briefing in December put forth a suggestion that county child welfare departments across the state use money from Colorado’s “marijuana tax cash fund” to help them handle the increased cost of more investigations. According to sources in the article, the number of child welfare cases in Colorado have increased since recreational marijuana legalization, many of them due to exposure of children to marijuana or marijuana-related products.

The state has made several moves to try and address the problem of exposing children to marijuana and marijuana-related products, most recently by enacting legislation requiring marijuana edibles and similar products be labeled appropriately to discourage children from thinking they are just candy and to help parents realize the importance of keeping these substances away from children.

Understanding the Reasons Behind the Increase

The article notes that county child welfare workers have indicated that legalized recreational marijuana has made their job more difficult to perform. However, they do not necessarily believe that legalized recreational marijuana use has caused a severe increase in abuse and neglect investigations. According to the article, child welfare workers get involved when a newborn child tests positive for marijuana, when a child is found to have ingested marijuana, or when they become aware that a caregiver’s use of marijuana is harming a child’s well-being. Thus, marijuana use becomes one of many factors that child welfare workers consider when making determinations about the safety of a child.

One of the main reasons it is difficult to determine the exact impact legalized recreational marijuana has had on child abuse and neglect cases is that Colorado implemented a statewide child abuse hotline a year after stores were allowed to legally sell recreational marijuana in the state. In the first year, the hotline received approximately 205,000 calls. This makes it difficult to determine whether the increase in child abuse and neglect investigations is a direct result of legalized recreational marijuana or is partially linked to increased access to methods of reporting abuse.

Legal Assistance with Drug-Related Charges

Citations for drug-related charges, and potentially convictions, can often mean more than paying a fine. In some cases, the stakes can be much higher and you may be facing additional drug-related charges like child endangerment. You do not have to face these charges alone. If you have been charged with a drug-related offense, you need a Colorado criminal defense attorney that has worked with clients on similar charges. Contact the Colorado criminal defense team at Tiftickjian Law Firm to schedule a consultation where you can find out more about the charges you are facing as well what options might be available to you in defending against those charges.

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(image courtesy of Delfi de la Rua)