In Colorado, marijuana is legal for adults aged 21 and older. But for people with uteruses, it’s not that simple. The state may have legalized weed for medicine and for fun, but if you’re pregnant? Maybe not.
A report from Colorado’s KVDR explains that women who use medical marijuana during pregnancy may face intervention from Child Protective Services, regardless of their parenting skills.
Using it under medical supervision? Doesn’t matter. Using it instead of an opioid? Colorado doesn’t care.
“I think honestly there is a greater risk from the Zoloft that I`m taking,” 35-year-old Shannon Mamer, who stopped using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain stemming from herniated discs, tells KVDR. She didn’t stop using marijuana out of concern for the health of her fetus, but out of fear that child protective services would step in. She was right—and abstaining from medical marijuana did not protect her. Medical records noting her marijuana use earlier in her pregnancy signaled a report to Child Protective Services, even though she did not test positive for THC when she gave birth.
Of course, there are lots of things women can do during pregnancy that are not ideal for the health of their fetuses, yet not illegal—smoking cigarettes, for example, or eating nothing but junk food. No one is a perfect incubator. But since a Colorado Department of Health review of the literature on marijuana use during pregnancy found a “moderate association” between a mother’s marijuana use during pregnancy and “decreased academic ability, cognitive function and attention…[that] may not appear until adolescence,” the state automatically opens an abuse and neglect case for a pregnant woman who uses marijuana.
Mamer criticizes the punitive reaction to medical marijuana use—which she says she would have preferred over the Percocet she was prescribed to treat her pain. Following birth, her newborn was treated with methadone to wean him off the opioid he was exposed to in-utero.
What’s more, tying marijuana use during pregnancy to neglect and abuse is unfair. As Dr. Peter Fried, an expert on marijuana use during pregnancy wrote in an affidavit for a CPS case regarding marijuana use during pregnancy:
“Based on my 30 plus years of experience examining the newborn, infants, toddlers, children, adolescents and young adults born to women who used [marijuana] during pregnancy it is important to emphasize that to characterize an infant born to a woman who used marihuana during pregnancy as being ‘physically abused’ and/or ‘neglected’ is contrary to all scientific evidence (both mine and subsequent work by other researchers). The use of marijuana during pregnancy…has not been shown by any objective research to result in abuse or neglect.”
Nearly every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association, has criticized punitive responses to drug use during pregnancy as a threat to public health that may push women away from prenatal care. Among many other voices, a young Barack Obama even warned, way back in 1990, against the dangers of punishing pregnant women for not maintaining some subjective standard for their uteruses.
The health choices surrounding a pregnancy should be made by the woman herself. And a woman who trusts her physician enough to be honest will have the best chance of accessing the services most suited to her and her pregnancy.