The United States was founded as a nation of laws, to ensure that the fearsome power of the state could not be wielded arbitrarily. Thomas Jefferson in particular struggled to create checks on government since it is the only entity with the power to rob you of your home and even your life.
Government also has the power to take your children away from you, and here again the bar to do so was made especially high.
Yet on Friday the 13th, September 2013, the state of Michigan used its power to take breastfeeding baby Bree (Brielle) Green away from her mother Maria and father Steve. (The ruling also denies Maria the right to have her son from a previous marriage spend any time in her home.) This happened despite the explicit guarantees in section 4c of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which Steve and Maria thought would protect them:
A person shall not be denied custody or visitation of a minor for acting in accordance with this act, unless the person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.
Referee Rod Porter said his main concern was that the Greens’ home was “dangerous.” He said he believed that marijuana was grown and consumed there, noting that Maria is a licensed caregiver.
“It is reasonable to assume that marijuana is being grown in that home with children being present, and that is dangerous for children to be involved in that situation,” said Porter, with obvious emotion. “We have homes being robbed at gunpoint – by individuals who know that children are at home.”
Porter went on to say that his decisions was influenced by a case where a two-year-old was shot and killed by her stepfather, an apparent reference to the case of alleged cocaine dealer Lavar Burton during a home invasion in July 2010.
Porter made no reference to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Law’s protections. However, after the hearing, I had the opportunity to ask him whether he viewed any home where medical marijuana was raised or consumed as automatically unfit for children. Porter said he could not comment on individual cases.
So then I asked how far the logic of the dangerousness standard he proposed would extend. Would parents lose custody of their children if they took them to other places where robbers with guns were known to show up, such as banks and gas stations? Porter instructed me to direct any further questions to Judge Garcia, who will be hearing the Greens’ case.
Bree ends up caught in the crossfire
The custody dispute initially did not involve baby Bree, but focused on the elementary-school-aged son Maria had with her ex-husband. After a judge in Jackson County allowed Maria visitation, the boy’s father filed a complaint arguing that the home she shares with Steve is unfit for children because of marijuana use.
The case shifted to Child Protective Services and Family Court in Ingham County and was expanded to include interviews with Steve’s three children from a former marriage. Baby Bree is Steve and Maria’s only child together and is also the only child who was living full-time in their Lansing home. As the video above shows, Maria was not allowed to accompany CPS worker Lori Bundy as she drove the infant to CPS office where Maria’s mother was finally able to pick her up and drive her to her home two-and-a-half hours away.
The Greens’ criminal attorney, Joshua Covert of Nichols Law Firm in East Lansing, arrived just as the decision about Bree was handed down at about 3 p.m. on Friday. The hearing occurred on such short notice that another case in court in Detroit kept him from arriving in time to help defend them. The Greens were instead given a court-appointed lawyer who had to be briefed on the case.
The Greens say that they only received notice of the 1 p.m. Friday hearing at 4 p.m. the previous day. They also say they were originally told the proceedings were only to litigate allowing caseworker Bundy’s access to their home, since the Greens’ attorney had advised them not to allow any official into the premises without a court order. Only on Friday morning did they learn the hearing would include the possibility of taking Bree away.
Covert says, “We believe the court’s decision yesterday would shock the conscience of the people of the state of Michigan due to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act being initiated and voted for, by the people and for the people.”
The Greens’ side of the story
The Greens refute many of the allegations made during the hearing. About the people smoking at their home, even though Maria is a licensed caregiver, there was testimony that what various children reported about people smoking likely referred to Cann-ology, a product they created which they call “cannabis science without the cannabis.” This new herbal product does not contain any controlled substances, according to the testing lab report provided during the hearing. However, it is smoked in “vape” pens that resemble the way some people smoke marijuana.
References to Steve Green testing “dirty” relate to his use of cannabis oil to treat his seizure disorder until Judge Bowman in Oakland County ordered him to stop doing so in June. Subsequent testing showed levels of the drug declining, with the last five tests showing “clean.”
The Drug War persists
The bottom line is that the Greens became caregivers and patients of medical marijuana as the law allowed, believing that there was no legal peril in doing so. Instead not only are they facing loss of their freedom because of the felony charges in Oakland County, but Maria cannot visit Bree at her mother’s house. The only visitation allowed involved having Bree brought to a foster home in Lansing where Maria can see her three times a week.
Referee Porter’s comments make it clear that the presumption of innocence and the legalization of medical marijuana had no impact on his thinking. At one point he referenced Maria’s court-ordered drug testing in Oakland County saying “to her credit, she tests clean.”
Why to her credit? The order to stop taking her medicine means that Maria recently ended up using a walker because of a flare-up of her multiple sclerosis, which had been held at bay while she was medicating with cannabis.
The sad reality is that the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act has failed to end the drug war, and the residual stigma makes it hard for many people to see how unfairly the Greens are being treated. In far too many cases, people are being arrested for doing things the law clearly intended to make legal, and now those brave souls who are fighting for their rights even risk seeing their children taken away.
This is not the message the voters of Michigan thought they were sending five years ago.
Previous stories on the Greens:
The Story of Steve and Maria – June 7, 2013
The Greens: Still fighting for their rights, now fighting for their kids – August 14, 2013