Monday, July 26, 2010

Magistrate invokes fairy tale in cannabis custody case

The prohibition of cannabis has been used by an "obsessive" father as a lever in a court battle over custody of his child, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The 5-year-old lives with his mother, and the father's case rested significantly on her occasional cannabis use. Without her knowledge he had the child drug-tested and also complained that she gave the boy food containing artificial colouring.

Magistrate Warwick Neville awarded custody to the mother on condition that she submit to urine and hair follicle drug tests for the next 18 months. However he accepted that the mother was committed to her role and there was no evidence the child had come to any harm in her care.

Mr Neville's approach -- in which he somehow likened the vicious little drama to the Harry Potter stories -- swallows whole the prohibitionist myth that a parent's moderate use of cannabis is equivalent to child abuse, while on the other hand alcohol use by parents is acceptable.

There is absolutely no evidence for this. Rather the opposite, as alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis by any objective measure.

So here we have the alcoholic down the road allowed to keep the kids while the moderate, caring toker up the road has to go on the wagon and have her time taken and bodily privacy invaded for 18 months. If the poor woman switches to drink, everything will be fine in this fantasy land the Magistrate appears to inhabit.

In his Harry Potter analogy, he likened the mother's sometime cannabis use to being under an evil spell, "caught in a twisting vine called the Devil's Snare".

This colourful but ludicrous analogy betrays the magistrate's misconceived view of cannabis that harks back to the fictions of the Reefer Madness era.

Once more prohibition has led to a gross waste of time and our taxes in the law courts as it seems there was no problem here except for an obsessive parent using misconceived views to fight a damaging custody battle.


Adrian said...

Well, to be fair to the magistrate, the illegality of cannabis negatively affects the child of a toking parent. It's not in the child's interests for her mother to be arrested and gaoled.

It's nothing to do with cannabis per se, only the law around it. But that law is a fact of life at the moment.

The Editor said...

The illegality might affect the child, but only because the illegality exists in the first place, which is the point I'm making.

I often find that people who use only alcohol think others should simply give up the drugs they prefer because they are illegal. But it's a different matter when the drinker has to go on the wagon. I refer to the Dry July participant who lamented how flat and boring her teetotalling month had become.

It's no different than teetotallers campaigning to stop people drinking, assuming that what suits them is the best choice for everyone else.

If the mother in court had been abusing the far more harmful alcohol, things would have to become extremely dire before DOCs intervened on the child's behalf. It's a blatant double standard.

The fact remains that the magistrate has used a fairy tale to justify a fiction.

The magistrate could have simply advised the mum to give up the pot and awarded custody. He DID accept that no harm had come to the child.

However the mum will now be subjected to the time, expense and indignity of having people take parts of her body, analyse them and snoop into her private behaviour for 18 months.

More seriously, she may have lost custody of the child to an apparently obsessive, dobbing dad.

The harms of prohibition are far greater than the harms of drugs.

Adrian said...

I don't disagree with your main point - I was only attempting to show that the magistrate had a good reason for the decision that didn't necessarily involve swallowing prohibition myths.

The magistrate's decision is entirely consistent with yours - the danger of the drug laws (not the drug itself) means that the child is better off with the father. The more you argue that the drug laws are harmful, the more you support the magistrate's decision.