(Part one of two articles on Marijuana and Child Abuse/Neglect)
On November 27, 2012, three weeks after Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana, Heather Jensen, 24, kept her two-year old and four-year old sons in the car seats of an SUV, while she smoked marijuana and had sex in her boyfriend’s truck. She left the ignition on and turned the heater up so the boys wouldn’t freeze. When she returned 90 minutes later, the younger boy wasn’t breathing. The older boy died in the hospital a week later. Jensen had lost her husband, Eric, in a car accident six weeks earlier. She has been sentenced to serve 10 years in prison.
Another Child Dies from Neglect
On January 13, 2014, two-year old Levi Welton died in a fire. He and his four-year old brother had been left in a room alone, where the fire started. Little Levi went into the closet to escape the flames. The parents, aged 27 and 33, were smoking pot in another room with friends. They survived, along with the older son. Julia and Christopher Welton have been charged with negligent child abuse causing death. Logan County officials had investigated the parents previously for neglect. Both boys had tested positive for THC, although the mother insisted she did not smoke pot around her sons. A family friend who took custody of the surviving boy told a reporter that the county should have done more to take the children out of the home prior to the fire.
Three children died in Colorado within 14 months, while the parents’ indulged in a marijuana. The Colorado Alliance for Drug-Endangered Children (CoDEC, affiliated with national DEC) has been working for stronger child protection laws. On April 1, 2014, Senators Linda Newell and Andy Kerr introduced two Senate bills to strengthen protections for children whose parents’ drug usage, manufacture or cultivation put them in danger.
The bills didn’t pass. Newell believes the bills were misconstrued by critics and that the outcome was undermined by interests of the pot industry and politics. Drug Policy Alliance had written a letter to the Denver Post suggesting it was unfair to marijuana users.
Marijuana and Child Neglect
“Don’t blame marijuana, blame the state.” some marijuana activists exclaim. Others say, “Bad parents will be bad parents, and marijuana has nothing to do with it.”
Parents Opposed to Pot blames the aggressive advocacy to legitimize marijuana for killing these three children. Those who praise cannabis refuse to see the irresponsible behaviors and outright neglect could have anything to do with marijuana. No one defends alcohol in the same way. These parents loved their children. With addiction, the object of addiction becomes more important than loved ones. We need to stop minimizing these incidents, because they’re also happening in states without legalized marijuana.
On May 22, in Lakeland, Florida, an abandoned three-year old knocked on the door of his mother’s house for an hour, crying, before the neighbors discovered him. The mother and her boyfriend had been smoking pot and doing whip-its all morning and then went into the bedroom to nap. Neither one of them had been supervising the boy who had gotten outside other times, even though they lived on a busy street. They told deputies that “marijuana should be legal anyways” and gave that as the reason they smoke pot all the time.
At least one of the children who died in a hot car this summer was a victim of a marijuana. On July 24, Seth Jackson, the foster father, went to see his marijuana dealer in Wichita and left the 10-month girl in the sweltering heat while he got high. He came out two hours later, and she was dead. He and his partner had been foster parents previously, without known issues.
Why Marijuana and Parenting Don’t Mix
Each situation outlined above — including the ones which resulted in the three Colorado children who died — demonstrate how it’s typical for pot smokers to not realize the lapse of time. Marijuana smoking distorts the sense of time and space, and harms short-term memory. Ideally, parents would never leave an infant or toddler for any period of time. Sober parents, with normal functioning, would rush back to their children before the heat or cold could do harm.
It’s possible to sympathize with Heather Jensen for losing her husband, but her coping mechanisms are unacceptable. The three parents living in Colorado – a state with medical marijuana since 2000 – may have been using marijuana as their crutch to escape the challenges and pains of life. If a recreational user also starts using pot for anxiety, the anxiety is likely to become worse than it ever may have been had the user not started. Lady Gaga explains the vicious cycle in her video.
Furthermore, those who begin using any addictive substance before age 21 are more likely to become addicted. These people may have grown up to be decent parents had they not begun using marijuana. Though many people begin drugs because they come from tough or abusive situations, it’s not necessarily the case. Where marijuana is legal or when people learn to use pot (or alcohol or prescription drugs) to medicate problems, they don’t learn healthy ways to get through the troubled times.
Another factor that could play into the impaired judgment of Seth Jackson, Heather Jensen, Julia Welton and Christopher Welton was the length of time they had been using marijuana. They ranged in age from 24 to 33. If they had begun smoking marijuana as teens, the part of the brain that deals with executive function could have become very impaired. The bad judgment, escapism and laziness could continue even when they aren’t smoking pot. Consistent pot smoking from teenage years into adulthood can prevent the normal process of growing into maturity. Recent studies give evidence to these changes in the brain structure.
Pregnancy, Breast Feeding and Daycare
The use of marijuana is inappropriate because of the constant alertness needed for child care. Plus, it messes with short-term memory. Users don’t always realize they’re impaired.
Tobacco smoking leads to health concerns and addiction, but it doesn’t impair the mind. Second hand smoke is bad for children, and many smoking parents make an effort not to do it with children around. Many women quit when they become pregnant. Today there are moms who insist on smoking marijuana while pregnant, and even when they’re breast feeding.
The neighbor of a home daycare provider in Oregon reported she had seen the owner’s daughter outside smoking with a bong in front of the children. Both the owner and her daughter were medical marijuana cardholders. The state investigated. In August, a state board told owners of four Oregon home-based day care centers will have to give up their medical marijuana cards or lose their licenses to care for children.
We know marijuana often brings about impaired judgment, forgetfulness and carelessness. One 19-year old Arizona mother, who had smoked marijuana, drove off with her infant in a car seat, on the roof of the car. Casey Anthony was a big party girl, but according to one of her friends, marijuana was her drug of choice. Without casting guilt on Amanda Knox, certainly heavy use of marijuana as a teen stunted her maturity and ability to function as a rational 19-year old in Italy.
It is estimated that 80% of all child abuse, neglect and endangerment is caused by by marijuana, alcohol or drugs. The problems of marijuana have specific relevance to judgment of time, memory and alertness. They are not quite the same as with other substances. Many tragedies can be avoided IF WE DON’T NORMALIZE MARIJUANA and make it legitimate for adults.
Marijuana Moms of Beverly Hills made big news last year when they declared that cannabis made them better moms, because it cut down on their anxiety. It’s a publicity stunt set up to promote the industry and bring Cheryl Shuman, the founder, fame. If you have children and love them, or if you care for children, please don’t indulge and don’t spread the baloney that marijuana is safer than alcohol. (Part two of this series is here.)