Three marijuana advocates working to add Idaho to a list of states with ganja-friendly legislation were dealt a tough blow in the last few weeks after having their children taken away from them.
While the state legislature doesn’t accept any use of marijuana, including for medicinal purposes, there is a group of Idaho residents who are working to reform marijuana laws in the state. The campaign for marijuana reform is led by a group called Compassionate Idaho. Their first goal: protect qualified medical marijuana patients from arrest, prosecution and forfeiture. Some of the groups most outspoken and publicly known members include Lindsey and Josh Rinehart and Sarah Caldwell.
Lindsey Rinehart says she uses marijuana to cope with the pain and health effect from multiple sclerosis. “I have prescribed meds to suppress my immune system, but those make me really sick. With cannabis, I only had to take [those] every other day,” she explained.
“Both of the kids have been educated about my medicine, so they know this is wrong,” Rinehart said. “They’re mad that they were taken away because mommy had her medicine. I’m trying to comfort them as best as I can.”
While the three adults were at a retreat on April 23, Boise Police were contacted by an official at a local school after one of the kids became ill. According to a news release from the police department, the school nurse reported an 11-year-old child became ill after eating a substance that was later identified as marijuana.
Officers discovered that the child found the marijuana in a friend’s home — the Rineharts’. Police went to the Rinehart home later that afternoon, citing concerns that the child who brought marijuana to school may have had access to other substances that could be harmful.
Four children aged 5 through 11 — two of whom are Caldwell’s, the other two belonging to the Rineharts — were being cared for by a babysitter at the time, who informed the police that the children’s parents were away at a retreat and did not have access to a telephone.
The babysitter allowed the police to enter the Rineharts’ home, where officers found drug paraphernalia and “a quantity of a substance that appeared to be marijuana in locations inside the house accessible to the children.”
Rinehart says she had a small amount of marijuana and a pipe in a drawer in her bedroom, a larger amount in a locked freezer, and marijuana tincture — liquid concentration of cannabis, where the active ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoids have been separated out into alcohol — in a bottle on top of her refrigerator.
The investigation expands
After these findings, police officers contacted narcotics investigators, who obtained a search warrant that allowed officers to search the home more thoroughly. Police have not released further information regarding additional evidence found at the home, saying the house was part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Officers also contacted the Boise Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. Because there were illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia in areas of the home accessible to the children, detectives contacted the Idaho Health and Welfare officials. The children were determined to be in “imminent danger” and were placed in protective custody until it could be determined they were living in a safe environment.
Caldwell’s kids have since been returned to her, since her children are not suspected of providing the marijuana, but as of May 5, the Rineharts were still fighting to get their children back. The Rinehart’s are also waiting to hear whether or not they will be charged with criminal marijuana charges and child endangerment. Based on the amount of marijuana the Rineharts had, they could be charged with a felony offense.
All four children were taken to the same foster home, but Caldwell says the ordeal traumatized her 6-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with autism. “I noticed when he came home, he started packing his favorite toys. I asked him why and he said, ‘In case the police make me go away again.’ He doesn’t understand why,” Caldwell said.
Though Rinehart doesn’t have her children back yet — and like Caldwell, she must comply with requirements of the child welfare system — she says Child Protective Services is moving faster than usual with her case. “They seem to be expediting the process because they realize they messed up,” she said.
Rinehart shared that since her kids were taken away, she has not been using cannabis to help with her multiple sclerosis symptoms, and has had to rely on her prescription medicine. “Now, I have to take it every day, and it’s so dangerous we have to regularly check my heart, liver, kidney and eye function. And if I have pain, I’ll have to go back to hydrocodone. I’ll be going back on those meds I had been able to taper down from with [the help of] cannabis.”
Targeted for marijuana activism, or a coincidence?
While the police maintain they were led to conduct the search after the incident involving the child ingesting marijuana, Caldwell and the Rineharts aren’t so sure, and wonder if they were specifically targeted because of their activism to legalize marijuana.
“I’m the director of Compassionate Idaho,” Rinehart said. “Everybody knows who I am. I’m on the news at least once a month. We had just done the Hemp Fest in Moscow [a town in Idaho] and signature-gathering in five towns. The police knew what they were looking for and they knew where to look without anyone telling them.”
“This has got me fired up,” Caldwell said. “They took my children to try to keep me focused on getting my kids back so I wouldn’t do my activism, but I’m not going to stop.”
Keith Stroup is the founder and current counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He says using kids as pawns in the marijuana debate is not new.
“We get calls three or four times a week from people who have lost custody of their children because they tested positive at birth or in a situation where parents are feuding over custody,” Stroup said. “One will say ‘My spouse smokes marijuana and is thus not a fit parent,’ and once that child welfare issue is raised, it’s a totally separate matter from the criminal justice system. Even if no one is proposing to arrest the parent, this is far more damaging and destructive to the family.”
He recommends that other marijuana-using parents make sure that they never smoke in front of their kids. “You have to be able to demonstrate convincingly that you are providing a safe and secure place for your kids. In places like Idaho, you could lose custody over your kids for something many of us in many parts of the country take for granted.”
“We’re getting more calls than we ever did about child custody,” Stroup continued. “There are still people being seriously damaged from what’s left of marijuana prohibition. Few go to jail for marijuana anymore, but many lose custody of their kids. These repercussions may be more subtle, but they are not insignificant.”
“People are really mad about this and are getting involved,” Rinehart said. “We even have people reaching out to help fund Compassionate Idaho.”
Marijuana versus alcohol
Due to the illegal nature of marijuana, data is not available regarding how many children grew up with parents that smoked or frequently ingested marijuana. By way of comparison, that information is available with regard to alcohol.
According to a December 2011 report from the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, one in five Americans have lived with an alcoholic relative. Those children are also at a greater risk for developing emotional problems than children whose parents did not suffer from alcoholism.
Children of alcoholics are also four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves — but access to a liquor cabinet in a home is not labeled child endangerment.
In November 2012, longtime television interviewer Larry King asked four police officers if neither marijuana or liquor were legal, and only one could be legalized, which one would they pick. King said they all answered at the same time: “Marijuana because they had never seen murder committed while someone’s under the influence of marijuana, and 80 percent of the homicides they investigated were alcohol-related.”