In NYC, Pot Possession Has Many Potential Repercussions

The NYPD has lightened enforcement of marijuana laws when it comes to personal possession. But not everyone is on the same page. As this article in the New York Times shows, parents are losing their children to the foster care system on allegations of neglect, often when they were found with a trivial amount of marijuana.

In New York, possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana is considered a “violation”, similar to a traffic ticket. It is not a criminal offense, though possessing it is against the law. But the NYT discusses several cases where a parent was found with less than 25 grams of pot and lost their children. The reason? Because New York City’s child welfare agency doesn’t make that same 25-gram designation.

One man, who was staying in a homeless shelter with his child, lost custody of the 1 year old when a worker there found a $5 bag of marijuana in his belongings. The child welfare officials justified the removal of the child stating the father once had alcohol on his breath and the baby wasn’t always sufficiently clothed. If beer-breath and a diaper-only clothed child was enough for neglect to be established, I know many parents who would have lost their children long ago.

State law says if a parent repeatedly misuses a drug, it is considered neglect. It doesn’t matter what type of drug it is. Also, if they have “substantial impairment of judgment”, there is neglect. The agency doesn’t have to catch the parent high or actually find any drugs at all. Merely admitting you once used marijuana could be enough to open a neglect investigation.

One woman, whose home was searched by police, was reported to the child welfare officials when the cops found 10 grams of pot. It wasn’t enough for a criminal charge, but she did lose her kids.

If officials are willing to take children away for a small amount of marijuana, you can bet they will look into cases where larger quantities and where other substances are found. The police typically report their findings to the agency when there are children in the home or present at the discovery of the drugs.

A criminal possession charge, regardless of the substance, can have lasting effects. Not only could you go to jail, pay fines, and lose your driving privileges, you could lose your children and find it hard to locate a job with a conviction on your record.

Anytime you are accused of a criminal offense, a criminal defense lawyer can be your advocate in the system, fighting for your rights and defending your good name.

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