The 9th Ohio District Court of Appeals ruled on April 1 that daily marijuana smoking by a working single mother does not make her an unfit parent. The ruling came in the case of Teresa Scott, whose children were taken by the state after she admitted smoking the demon weed. The case now goes back to Summit County Juvenile Court, which will make a final decision on the custody of Scott's four children.
According to court documents, Scott's descent into bureaucratic hell began when she took one of her children to an Akron hospital for a minor injury. A social worker at the hospital reported her to Children Services as a possible child abuser. In the course of an investigation, Scott admitted that she smoked marijuana regularly, but never in front of her children. She agreed to a drug test, but missed it by 15 minutes. The next day the county took her kids, aged 8, 11, 12 and 15.
That was in August 2001. Children Services' decision to seize the Scott kids was upheld by the Summit County Juvenile Court, but the Court of Appeals ruling made it clear that the court had erred. According to the court, Scott's kids "were clean, healthy, attended school and were apparently good students." The court also cited testimony by case workers that there was no evidence Scott's marijuana use affected her parenting. Scott also had a record as a regularly employed person who paid her bills on time, the court noted.
"While this court certainly does not condone a parent's use of an illegal substance or abuse of a legal substance, parents have a fundamental right to raise their children," wrote Judges Donna Carr and William Batchelder in their 2-1 majority opinion. "Without some evidence that Teresa's supervision of her children or the environment of her children has been affected in some negative way by her use of marijuana, there is not clear and convincing evidence" the state had any right to take the kids.
Scott's lawyer, Richard Kutuchief, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Scott had suffered at the hands of the state and wants to put her family back together. Her children have been living with relatives for the last 18 months.
"Her whole family was disbanded and torn apart and she absolutely wants them back," said Kutuchief. "Children Services was being overzealous as a watchdog, and the sole issue was whether her smoking marijuana was justifiable to remove and estrange the children from their parent. If a person uses marijuana to relax or in the same fashion as alcohol, is it bad?" he asked. "Would it be better for the court if she was on Prozac or another prescription drug that could be more intense than marijuana?"
The Plain Dealer, for one, agreed. In a Saturday editorial, the Cleveland newspaper wrote that "a grievous injustice would have been done if Scott lost her children based on the known evidence." The decision to seize Scott's children was "rash and unwarranted because it was not in the children's best interest," the Plain Dealer opined.