NY Punishes Part-Time Pot Smokers. By Taking Their Kids.

By Ariel Nagi 08/19/11

"Child neglect" cases in New York see children taken away from parents caught with even tiny amounts of marijuana—particularly if they're black or Hispanic.

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Parents in New York City are hit with child negligence cases that see their kids taken into care—just for being busted with tiny amounts of marijuana, unworthy of a misdemeanor charge, the New York Times reported yesterday. State law ranks possession of up to 25 grams of pot—used by 730,000 people in NYC, or 12% who are aged 12 and up—at a similar level to traffic offenses, earning a top fine of $100. But thanks to the city's child welfare agency, some parents pay a much higher price. Hundreds of families have been through traumatic child negligence cases. The Administration for Children's Services believes that parental pot-use often indicates significant child welfare problems. “Drug use itself is not child abuse or neglect, but it can put children in danger of neglect or abuse,” said Michael Fagan, the organization's spokesman, who insists other factors are usually involved. “We think the argument that use of cocaine, heroin or marijuana by a parent of young children should not be looked into or should simply be ignored is just plain wrong.” But lawyers say they represent dozens of parents, with no previous record of neglect, whose children are taken into foster care for weeks or longer, solely for recreational marijuana use—which becomes grounds to search for other, more serious problems. Many lose their jobs over such cases. There were 4,891 child neglect cases in NYC last year related to parents misusing drugs or alcohol—but this can mean anything from a violent incident to just a $5 bag of pot. Neglect cases these can stay on parents' records until their youngest children turn 28. Apart from anything else, the issue is a clear example of institutionalized racism: Whites in the city are twice as likely to smoke pot as blacks or Hispanics, but barely any such cases are filed against white families. Overall, a staggering 90% of those arrested for personal possession in New York are black or Latino.

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