February 14, 2014 at 8:20 am

COLUMN

Abiding by state pot law, couple still lost daughter for 6 weeks

Last fall, Maria Green lost custody of her daughter Bree for six weeks over conflicts with Michigan's medical marijuana law. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)

Maria Green will never forget the day her baby girl was taken from her.

Last September, state Children’s Protective Services workers and police removed then 6-month-old Bree from her Lansing home. All her parents could do was watch in shock.

“I slumped in the street and started wailing,” Green says. “It was tortuous. I didn’t want her with a stranger.”

This happened because Green and her husband use marijuana for medicinal reasons, which they take in capsule and candy form. Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since voters approved the law in 2008. And the Greens had done everything they were supposed to under the law.

The case highlights the tension between state law and local communities and agencies that aren’t comfortable with marijuana. Yet the Michigan Supreme Court ruled this month that local officials cannot ban the use of medical marijuana. Agencies need to follow the law, too.

Green and her husband, Steve Green, have used marijuana the past few years to treat their respective illnesses. Green has multiple sclerosis and her husband has epilepsy. Marijuana has helped them lead normal lives. They are both registered with the state to use the drug, and Green is a certified caregiver, which means she grows the marijuana plants.

Green’s ex-husband tipped off the local CPS agency that marijuana was in the house. He was in a bitter custody battle with Green over their son and used a previous run-in the Greens had with the law in Oakland County against them. That case involved medical marijuana, and those charges have been dropped.

Joshua Covert, the Greens’ Lansing-based attorney, says he was there the day Bree was taken away. “It was heartbreaking,” he recalls.

Bree, now almost 1, is adorable. She just started walking and smiles often. Nearly six months have passed, but the Greens’ emotions are still raw. Bree ended up staying with Green’s mother, although agency workers threatened to place the baby in foster care at first. She was away from her parents for six weeks.

Green wasn’t there to hear Bree’s first words (mama, dada) nor see her first attempts at crawling. “All these firsts that I missed,” she says.

Despite her ordeal, Green isn’t backing down. “When she [Bree] was gone, there were absolutely times I felt hopeless, that it was not worth fighting because the opposition was so intense,” Green says. “But getting her back made me feel that there are reasons we need to fight this.”

Seeing other families in similar situations has strengthened Green’s desire to continue her role as caregiver. And she has kept the website, FreeBabyBree.com, that she created after Bree was taken. She now uses it as a resource for others around the state and hopes to get the word out about attempts to hamper the medical marijuana law. “I never meant to be an activist,” Green says.

She’s particularly concerned about a bill recently introduced by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, that would expand court authority to terminate parental rights in medical marijuana cases.

Covert, the Greens’ attorney, notes that Michigan’s medical marijuana law specifically offers parents protection. It states they can’t lose “custody or visitation of a minor for acting in accordance with this act” unless there is a clear threat to the child.

That wasn’t the case with the Greens, and it’s why they eventually regained custody of Bree. And Green believes the opposition may actually be a good sign.

“I know that oftentimes in a battle, you know you’re getting somewhere when the opposition pushes harder and harder,” Green says.

Conflicts within the state, however, are just one threat. The drug remains illegal at the federal level, despite an increasing number of states that have legalized pot for medicinal — or recreational — use. The Obama administration maintains it won’t go after individuals who are abiding by state law, yet that hasn’t protected people like Okemos businessman Dennis Forsberg. He’s serving three years in federal prison for leasing warehouses to licensed medical marijuana growers.

Michigan officials should ensure agencies and communities protect people abiding by state marijuana law.

As Green says, “I don’t think it’s right to make anyone choose between their health and their child.”

Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.
ijacques@detroitnews.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ingrid_jacques