Today Ohioans vote on whether or not they'll follow in the footsteps of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska (plus the District of Columbia), to become the fifth state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. On top of those states, another 19 states have some form of legal exemption for medical marijuana on the books. It's enough to make you believe that the stigma of cannabis is finally eroding—after all, if Jeb Bush can admit to doing a drug without generating much in the way of controversy, how prohibited can that drug really be?
Which is why the recent ruling by Ohio Juvenile Court Magistrate Eleanore Hilow to remove a newborn baby from the home of her mother because she used a non-psychoactive marijuana-based tea to help with pregnancy-related nausea and labor pains is such a head scratcher. Especially when you consider the decision was made contrary to advice from county social workers with knowledge of the case who'd visited the mother's home.
Hollie Sanford delivered her baby girl on September 26 at a hospital in Cleveland. She and the infant tested positive for marijuana shortly afterward, because the mother had been drinking marijuana tea to alleviate the aches and nausea of pregnancy. She'd used the same tea while pregnant with her older son, who also tested positive for the byproduct after his birth. But this time, the drug test led to a visit from a county worker, which in turn led to Hilow's controversial decision to take the healthy baby away.
"It's outrageous," Attorney Joseph Jacobs told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "The decision has no basis in law or science. There was no harm done to this child other than the removal from her mom and dad." While there's no way to track how many parents lose custody of their kids each year due to the use of marijuana, Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told The Daily Chronic back in 2013 during a similar case in Idaho that his team gets calls "three or four times a week from people who have lost custody of their children because they tested positive at birth or in a situation where parents are feuding over custody." He considers the act of taking a baby away from its parents based on their pot use an act of political kidnapping. It's indisputable that sometimes doing so fails to make the baby safer, as in the very famous and horrific case in Texas that saw two-year-old Alex Hill taken from her admittedly pot-happy parents only to be murdered by her state-approved foster mother. Jacobs told the Plain Dealer that Sanford's newborn was not under "immediate or threatened physical or emotional harm," which is the standard from which children are removed from homes under Ohio law. He further called into question whether or not the magistrate even understood the law, or that the tea drunk by the mother in question could not produce a high. Of the later criticism, Hilow said that it didn't matter: "It's still illegal." It might not be illegal for long. If the state's Issue 3 is voted into law by Ohio voters, the state's constitution will be amended to allow marijuana products to be smoked or eaten by adults 21 or older and patients of any age with qualifying medical conditions. Early polling on the ballot measure has proven it'll be difficult to predict: A Kent State University poll showed 56 percent support, but polls by the University of Akron and Bowling Green State University both say it's too close to call. The pro-Mary Jane In Ohio forces, lead in part by former boy-band heartthrob Nick Lachey, are spending a ton of money—over $25 million—on the campaign. But Issue 3 is controversial for all kinds of reasons, with even some marijuana fans saying that the amendment is dominated by moneyed interests that are hoping to dominate the state's industry. One can guess how Sanford's vote will go. Follow Brian on Twitter.