Newborn Taken Away by Juvenile Court Because Mother Drank Tea To Ease Labor Pains

Carey Wedler
November 4, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) A Cleveland, Ohio magistrate recently ordered a newborn baby to be confiscated from her family because her mother drank reportedly non-psychoactive marijuana tea to ease her labor pains. The decision to remove the child from her parents’ home came despite the opinion of the county’s child services agency that the baby should stay with her family.

Hollie Sanford and her husband Daniel welcomed their daughter, Nova, in late September; and to do so, Hollie opted to use a marijuana tea to lessen the pains of childbirth. After researching her options, she concluded the tea would be safer than other pain treatments. To be sure, use of painkillers and opiates during pregnancy has led to increased rates of withdrawal among newborns.

According to Sandford’s attorney, Joseph Jacobs, the tea did not contain any psychoactive components, but was simply a metabolite of marijuana. As Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer  summarized, Jacobs described the metabolite as “a molecule that remains in the system after marijuana use that crossed over through the mother’s placenta.

That metabolite appeared in postpartum urine tests for both Hollie and Nova, so the government stepped in.

First, a Cuyahoga County worker visited the family’s home to follow up on the positive test results — a repeat occurrence from two years ago, when the couple’s first son was born. Though Hollie drank the tea at that time, their son was never removed from the home, so they were not concerned this time around. The Sanfords say they cooperated during the recent visit concerning Nova, so they were surprised when over two weeks ago, they received less than 24 hours’ notice for a juvenile court hearing regarding Hollie’s use of the marijuana tea.

At that hearing, the county requested “protective supervision” of the family.

In spite of this relatively moderate request, Magistrate Eleanor Hilow ordered Nova to be removed from the home. When Jacobs explained the nature of the non-psychoactive marijuana metabolite in court, he says Hilow showed little sympathy. It’s still illegal,” she reportedly said.

Fortunately, the Sanfords managed to avoid foster care for Nova, and instead were able to have her stay with relatives, where they can visit her regularly. Nevertheless, Hilow’s decision was so rash that the prosecution filed a motion to challenge it.

On October 23, an assistant prosecuting attorney wrote:

There is no need to remove this child from her parents’ [sic] in order to protect her. At this time, removal would only serve to disrupt the bond the child would develop with her parents during this important period in her life…Rather than protecting the child, removal may be more harmful to her both in the present and in the future.

Sanford’s attorneys and attorneys for Cuyahoga County Children and Familiy Services are requesting a different judge overturn Hilow’s original ruling in order to allow the child to return to her parents. Jacobs said Ohio law requiresimmediate or threatened physical or emotional harm” to remove a child from their home on an emergency basis. Such danger, according to child services, was not evident.

Mary Louise Madigan, a spokesperson for Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services, suggested Magistrate Hilow continuously makes ill-advised, unilateral decisions. “We are disappointed that this jurist regularly makes rulings disregarding the agency’s professional opinion and the opinions of other professionals in the courtroom, include [sic] guardians ad litem and other child welfare experts,” she said.

Jacobs called the judge “ill-tempered” and claimed her “punitive decisions” were wreaking havoc on families throughout the county.

In spite of the court’s apparent misdeeds, Hollie says she has complied with all requests from her caseworker. She even offered to take a second drug test despite her claim the first test she submitted came back negative. Though she explained she enjoys using marijuana occasionally — and clarified she is not addicted — she offered to undergo drug treatment. “I said I’d do anything they wanted to get my daughter home,” she told a local newspaper.

Even so, Hollie stands by her decision to drink the tea:

If people want to say I’m a terrible parent that’s their right,” she said. “I did my research and I felt like what I was doing was safe. I know in my heart that I’m an excellent mother. What happened should not have caused my baby to be taken from me.

Though support for marijuana legalization is sweeping the nation, restrictive laws still punish individuals in many parts of the country — even when cannabis is used for medical reasons. A mother in Kansas saw her son removed from her home when his school discovered she used cannabis to treat Crohn’s disease. She now faces decades in prison. Another mother in Minnesota faces “child endangerment” charges for treating her son, who suffered traumatic head injury, with cannabis oil. Though research and anecdotal evidence increasingly prove the plant’s medical benefits, the federal government and many states lag behind these revelations.  

On Monday, Ohio voters rejected an initiative to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. Even legalization advocates opposed the proposed measure out of fear its provisions would establish an immediate monopoly over the state’s marijuana market. Either way, the defeat ensures that cannabis will continue to remain illegal in Ohio — and that the government will continue to prosecute and punish those ‘in violation.’

Nevertheless, Daniel remains optimistic. “It’s a devastating situation, but we are getting through it,” he said.

In spite of Magistrate Hilow’s archaic ruling against the recommendation of Cuyahoga County Child and Family Services, support from that agency and the prosecuting attorneys means there is hope the parents can still retrieve their baby.

As Daniel said, “She really just wants her mom.”

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