Court Rules Doctor-Recommended Use of Medical Cannabis While Pregnant Not Considered Child Neglect

The Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled that using medical cannabis under the care of a physician while pregnant is not considered child neglect.

Full story after the jump.

The Arizona Court of Appeals last week ruled that women who use medical cannabis under the care of a physician while pregnant are not neglecting their unborn child and cannot be put on a list that could limit their employment, AZ Central reports. The ruling reverses a decision by Department of Child Safety (DCS) Director Mike Faust to place Lindsay Ridgell, a former DCS employee, on the agency’s Central Registry.

The DCS Central Registry is a list of people who have been deemed to have neglected or abused their children and serves as a red flag if the person on the list seeks employment that involves children or other vulnerable populations.

Writing for the court, presiding Judge Randall Howe concluded that because Ridgell had a medical cannabis card prescribed by a doctor, her use of cannabis to counteract nausea was the same as taking any other prescription under a doctor’s direction.

Cannabis is legal in Arizona for both medical and adult use.

“Ridgell’s marijuana use was protected by the AMMA (Arizona Medical Marijuana Act), and that protection extends to prenatally exposing her infant to marijuana.” — Howe in the decision

The case stems from 2019 when Ridgell gave birth and the baby tested positive for cannabis which required the hospital to notify DCS. Under state law, a parent is considered neglectful if a child is born substance-exposed, unless the exposure occurred while the mother was under treatment by a medical professional.

DCS investigators determined that while Ridgell had a valid medical cannabis card, she did not inform the physicians that were involved in her pregnancy care about her cannabis use. They did not move to remove the child from her care but did move to place her on the registry – a listing that lasts 25 years.

Ridgell appealed the DCS decision to a state administrative law judge, who sided with her but Faust, as allowed under law, reversed that decision, saying Ridgell’s lack of communication with her other doctors made her guilty of neglect and again referred her to the registry, the report says. In her appeal, Ridgell argued the cannabis exposure resulted from a medical treatment administered by a doctor, since she received her medical cannabis card with a doctor’s permission.

Judges Brian Furuya and Michael Brown joined in Howe’s decision, and the court determined that “her marijuana use is the equivalent of taking any other medication under the direction of a physician.” The state Supreme Court has declined to hear any further challenges to the ruling.

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