Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2014

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Q&A: Stacy Rocheleau:

Family law attorney warns high times might lead to loss of custody

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Steve Marcus

Medical marijuana is shown in a home in this 2010 file photo.

As Southern Nevada readies for expanded access to medical marijuana — and an anticipated avalanche of people seeking access to it — legal experts have a warning for parents: One of the drug's myriad effects is its heavy sway on some child-custody battles.

Judges have broad discretion in custodial cases, Las Vegas family law attorney Stacy Rocheleau said, and their personal philosophies about marijuana use can affect each ruling.

That means medical marijuana cardholders with children should scrutinize the reasons they're using the drug and the frequency with which they do it, Rocheleau said.

Rocheleau chatted with the Sun recently about the topic and offered some tips for parents who use or are thinking about using medical marijuana.

How does medical marijuana use impact child-custody cases?

Judges have a lot of discretion in any case where there are children involved — they're going to look at the mental and physical case of a parent who has a medical marijuana card.

What gave rise to having to get one? What's the dose? And how impaired are they by taking the drug? Those are some of the factors.

It's just like any other drug — if it impairs the parent in any way, it can affect the child. Parents might need to have a supervised visitation.

You've got a judge that's got a lot of discretion, and you've got some people with legitimate diseases.

If marijuana is legal, what's the big deal?

It's a pretty big deal, and it's something that we're preparing for by making our clients aware that they need to be honest with us. The judges will send them out right away and tell them they're not allowed to have any visitation if mandatory tests come back dirty.

It's a really tough issue. I think the purpose, overall, of medical marijuana is to legalize a certain amount so that you can escape criminal liability. That's really what it was designed for — yes, you're not going to be charged criminally and now you're allowed by law to use this. Before it was illegal, and now it's not. But you can still be an unfit parent.

It's going to be a really interesting issue as it develops and marijuana becomes more mainstream — we're still at the forefront of it. I don't know that everyone who can benefit from medical marijuana is using it for good or has taken advantage of it.

What advice do you have for parents who either use medical marijuana or plan to use it in the future?

Have a good, bona fide doctor that is treating you for a real disease that you need the drug for.

I don't know if people are just going to expect to get a card for recreational use. If that's what you're doing, then don't expect to have custody of your kids. You're either going to choose your kids or choose marijuana.

Ask yourself: Are you on the right dose? How much are you using it, and how is it being ingested? Are you smoking it, eating it — how are you ingesting it?

I would tell people to treat (medical marijuana prescription) cards very carefully — it's not your golden ticket.

Can judges tell if someone is using medical marijuana recreationally?

There are potential abuses within the system, and judges are really going to be ferreting out suspicious cases.

Don't think that just because you have a card, you can smoke marijuana and have custody of your kids. It's just not that easy.

It's still a process, and judges are going to be looking at parents very carefully because there are children involved. If they even think someone got a card with an illegitimate doctor and they think someone is using marijuana to get high, they'll rule against someone. These judges are smart.

Have you personally encountered any cases of abuse?

We've had people before who have tested dirty, and they'll say they have a card but then they never show it. Or they'll try to get a card after the fact. That might make it OK for the police, but it's not OK for the family court judge.

It's like alcohol. If you're drunk every day, you should not be around your children.

I think that's what people are kind of missing. They think that because it's legal, it's OK. There are a lot of things out there that are legal but not OK.

That's the standard: What is in the best interest of your kids?

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