Black and Latino Parents Lose Child Custody Over Marijuana Charges

The New York Times reports on a startling trend that's seeing black and Latino parents lose their children because of minor drug possession, even though whites use drugs more often.

By Jorge Rivas Aug 18, 2011

Hundreds of New York parents who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have had their children taken away from them, according to a new report in the New York Times. In some cases, parents did not face criminal charges of drug possession.

In the state of New York possession of as much as 25 grams of marijuana (enough for 20 or 30 joints) carries a violation similar to a traffic offense with fines totaling less than $100, reports the  Times.

Perhaps that’s why marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in New York City. Twelve percent of people age 12 and older use the drug at least once annually, according to city health data. But while the rate of marijuana use among white New Yorkers is twice as high as among black and Latinos in the city, defense lawyers says these parental neglect cases are "rarely ever filed agaisnt white parents."

The Times included an interview with Penelope Harris, a mother of two who was found to have about 10 grams of marijuana when authorities searched her apartment in the Bronx last year. The amount was below the legal threshold for even a misdemeanor, and prosecutors declined to charge her. But authorities still reported her to child protective services and she lost custody of her son for a week and a niece that was providing foster care for was moved to another home for over a year.

While most of these cases result in parents losing custody of their children temporarily there are a small number of parents who have lost parental rights permanently.