As you may have heard, medical marijuana is already legal in New Jersey, and the voters of New Jersey have now voted to make the use of recreational marijuana legal as well. While specific state regulations governing the use of marijuana for recreational purposes will soon become our law, as a family law practitioner, the issue of pot and parenting has been a legal issue I have seen evolve over the 30+ years I have practiced family law. When I began practicing in the 1980s, the use of marijuana by one parent was perceived as a basis for denying that parent access to their children. Today, as society has come to accept both the medical and recreational benefits of marijuana, pot is no longer an issue which, by itself, has any relevance in a custody and/or parenting time matter. Unless a parent’s use of marijuana results in harm and/or neglect of a child, a parent use of marijuana should have no relevance in a custody and/or parenting time proceeding. As our law has always provided, no parent in the state of New Jersey shall ever be deemed “unfit” to parent “…unless (that) parent(‘s) conduct has a substantial adverse effect on the child.” There must accordingly be a nexus between the parental wrongdoing; whether it be abuse of marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, gambling addiction, untreated anger issues, etc., and actual harm to the child(ren). Parents should not accordingly “throw stones” at one another regarding one another’s imperfections, addictions and/or untreated mental illness issues unless same impact the child(ren).
What, then, is the appropriate way to both parent and enjoy the medical and/or recreational benefits of marijuana?
While a parent using marijuana must obviously exercise common sense depending upon the child’s age and/or maturity, parents may be surprised to hear that there are already guidelines developed by the Americans for safe Access (ASA) for parents facing child custody issues arising from the use of marijuana. These ASA guidelines include the following:
- When residing in a house with the child, possess or cultivate as little as your condition allows;
- Keep all medical marijuana out of plain sight, ideally in clearly labeled medical jars and with other prescription medications, in a place that children cannot access;
- If you cook with medical marijuana, clearly label any resultant food products as medicinal, and keep them far away from any children’s food;
- Use discretion when medicating, and do not do so when your child is present. Specifically, think about medicating when you have several hours opened before any interaction with the child or after he/she is already in bed;
- If your child can understand, specifically explained to him/her that the marijuana it is your medicine and that is not for him/her (much like any other prescription medication).
- In a dual-patient-parent household, try to work at a routine with your partner where one parent is always unmedicated in case any unexpected issues arise; and
- Never drive with your children in a car after medicating.
While the above-itemized guidelines were developed for the use of medical marijuana, it will be interesting to see how our New Jersey lawmakers handle not only the state-sponsored sale of recreational marijuana, but how same may or may not impact the evolving legal questions surrounding pot and parenting.