Medical marijuana use at center of custody battle

The stigma of pot use is splitting up families.

Bree Green, the baby who was taken from her parents last year, has been home since last fall when she was returned to her parents, Steve and Maria Green, after six weeks. But the child custody nightmare that led to young Bree being taken from their home is still alive. It’s an ugly custody battle between Maria and her ex-husband over Bree’s older brother, who is 7.

The thrust of the custody hearings goes to the heart of issues that will probably be revisited in other cases — especially if Maria loses this one. It’s medical marijuana and the stigma of its use even though state law says it’s OK. There are too many people in positions of authority who still can’t accept that and are willing to listen to accusations that may be baseless because they still buy in to reefer madness hysteria. If Maria loses because of her status as a medical marijuana patient, others will be emboldened to go after others on the same grounds.

“I just don’t think that these things would happen if it had nothing to do with marijuana at all,” says Maria of the roller coaster ride her family has been on, really since September 2011.

It all started back then after Oakland County police raided the Green home while the family was away after claiming they smelled marijuana while investigating a nearby home invasion. They found 29 marijuana plants but no charges were pursued when it was determined that Maria was a medical marijuana caretaker. Steve and Maria Green are both medical marijuana patients. Steve uses it to treat his epilepsy and Maria her multiple sclerosis. Since the raid, they’ve moved to a home in the Lansing area, and their lives have been upended in many ways. 

In December 2012, Maria’s ex-husband, Ron Ferguson, filed in Jackson County Court, where he then lived, for a change in custody. He claimed that Maria was an unfit parent. In June 2013 he refused to return the boy to Maria after a scheduled visit. In August, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Susan E. Beebe made a temporary ruling against Ferguson, instructing him to return his son to Maria. At the time, Maria was not using marijuana and had taken monthly drug tests for nearly a year. 

That’s when Ferguson called state Child Protective Services. 

Bree was removed from the Green home last September after a visit from CPS. The reason was never really clear, other than a general fear that the home was somehow unsafe due to the presence of marijuana growing in a locked room. After six weeks of very public legal wrangling, Bree was returned to her parents after an out-of-court settlement. 

Actually, the original CPS order included Bree’s older brother and Steve’s three children from a former marriage. But since the older brother was not in residence at the time and there was no contention between Steve and his ex, only Bree became the focus of public concern.

After Bree was returned, the Greens resumed their use of medical marijuana. Before he began medicating with a hemp oil extract, Steve says he suffered 130 seizures in 2009. They went away after he began a regimen of taking high-CBD oil in the morning and high-THC oil in the evening. Then last year he stopped taking oil from June to October in order to please the court. During that time he suffered eight seizures.

“It was the worst feeling,” Steve says. “It’s one thing to have an illness and not be able to control it, but it’s another thing to know there is something you can do but you can’t — just waiting for another seizure. That took everything I had.”

When Maria’s MS flares up, she has to use a walker. When she rubs the oil onto her spine area, within 12 hours she doesn’t have to use the walker anymore.

However, after the Greens resumed medicating with marijuana, Judge Beebe changed her mind about the custody ruling, and a string of evidentiary hearings have kept the Greens in Jackson County Court every five weeks or so. In the meantime, Maria is allowed one-hour-long supervised visit per week with her son. The court refers to these visits as “reacquainting” sessions, since her son has been away from her since last June.

“I think that, in any other case, if a child is being withheld from his parents, the courts would do everything in their power to get the child back to that parent,” Maria says. “This judge, based on hearing the word marijuana, she wants to see all the evidence in court.”

It’s by and large the same evidence that an Ingham County judge saw and ruled that Bree could return to her family. The Greens are represented by Joshua Covert, the same attorney who successfully represented them in Oakland County, where charges were dismissed, and in Ingham County. He is not a family law attorney. He’s a criminal defense attorney who handles drug and alcohol cases. 

“I’m doing this because I’m familiar with the Greens, most of the stuff being brought up is stuff I’m familiar with because of the other cases,” says Covert. “I consider the Greens to be good friends of mine.”

The whole thing seems to contradict a provision of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which states: “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.”

Bree may be free, but the Greens are still denied access to another child. With regard to this, the Greens are hosting a Mother’s Day event on Sunday called “Up, Up and a Love” (see the Facebook page) at Richfield County Park in Davison, for parents of children who are missing, taken, or deceased. Parents will write notes to their children and place them inside heart-shaped balloons and fill them with helium to set them aloft. There will be other activities for children and moms. When you can’t see your own child, it helps to share with others who are experiencing similar difficulties.

“It’s hard that I don’t get to see him much and I’m not able to be there to protect him, go to doctor’s appointments, and know what’s going on at school,” Maria says. “I feel like I’m cut off from him and it’s been really hard on me. “

It shouldn’t be this hard for any parent.