At the Catholic Commission for Social Justice’s symposium on ‘Marijuana and Cannabinoids: Health, research and regulatory considerations’, Vandana Siew Sankar-Ali, Assessment Manager, Children’s Authority presented on parental marijuana usage in the home.
Themed Marijuana and Child Protection, Sankar-Ali began with recent studies on young people and marijuana use, stating that it is the drug of choice because of both accessibility and its being the most frequently offered in both home and social circles.
She cited the following statistics:
National Drug Council cited an increase in marijuana use in primary and secondary school-aged children, with 13.7 per cent of them admitting to use in their lifetime, and 8.88 per cent using within the last year
The National Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Programme (NADAPP) National Secondary School Survey of 2013 revealed that marijuana attracted the curiosity of 28.3 per cent of school-aged children—the highest rate compared to other specific drugs.
Decriminalisation of marijuana and the child protection system
Sankar-Ali stated that marijuana use did not necessarily mean that adults would be less appropriate parents, nor does it indicate that there will be child protection issues simply because of use. However, in the literature on parenting and marijuana use, several themes are repeated.
She said parents often admitted to being less emotionally involved with their children and described increased irritability with children due to the effects of withdrawal from drugs.
With other activities in the home, an atmosphere of secrecy pervades many drug-using families. Parent-child interactions also are likely to be different depending on whether a parent is intoxicated, sober, or withdrawing from drugs.
Multiple studies have also shown that marijuana use can significantly impair judgement, motor coordination, reaction time in the short-term, produces changes in thinking, perception, attention, and information processing with short-term memory being most clearly affected.
These functions are essential in the ability to pay attention, make decisions, react to emergencies, all necessary to ensuring the safety of a child as well as responding appropriately to his/her needs.
In families where marijuana use is problematic, she said most of the welfare cases emerged out of neglect of the child/children. Another issue which emerges in such homes is the parentification of the child, often the eldest, who now has the responsibility of taking care of his/her younger siblings, and in some cases, the parents themselves.
There is also a correlation between issues of child neglect where parents used marijuana and later adult usage, suggesting an intergenerational impact with regard to marijuana use.
The fear, Sankar-Ali acknowledged, is that with decriminalisation, there will be increased marijuana use among people under the legal age. The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2019, as both she and lawyer John Heath identified, simply states ‘persons’ without an indicator of age; it is assumed that ‘persons’ means ‘adults’ (18 years and over). Increased use by those underage will also be influenced by the quality of parenting: whether there are stern boundaries in place or a more permissive style of parenting.
Previously, the Children’s Authority would act in cases because of the illegality of having marijuana on the premises and exposure of the child to the drug. Now, she reminded, even though it has been decriminalised, it does not relieve parents and guardians of their duty to keep their child/ren safe. –SD
Global standards where intervention is necessary in child protection issues where marijuana has been decriminalised or made legal are as follows: