An Arizona mother recently won a Court of Appeals case that determined she was not guilty of child neglect because she consumed medical cannabis to treat extreme morning sickness, and her child tested positive for cannabis shortly after being born.
The Arizona Court of Appeals judges ruled that it is not neglect if a mother gives birth to a child that has cannabis in its system, as long as she has permission from a doctor to use it as a medical treatment under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).
The case, Lindsay Ridgell v. Arizona Department of Child Safety, involved mother and medical cannabis card holder Lindsay Ridgell, whose child was born in May 2019. Due to the presence of cannabis in her child’s system, the hospital notified the Department of Child Safety and she was placed on the Central Registry. Her child wasn’t taken from her, but her name would remain on the Central Registry for 25 years, which could possibly interfere with getting a job. According to Yahoo! News, there are over 81,000 names on the Central Registry, as of 2018 (the most recent data currently available).
Three judges, Judge Randall M. Howe, Brian Y. Furuya and Michael J. Brown, ruled on March 31. “The Director [of the Department of Child Serves] erred in placing Ridgell on the Central Registry. A person may be placed on the Central Registry if her newborn infant has been exposed to certain drugs, including marijuana, but only if that exposure did not result from medical treatment administered by a health professional,” Judge Howe wrote in his opinion.
“The evidence shows that Ridgell was certified under AMMA to use marijuana medically to treat chronic nausea. The doctor who certified Ridgell’s eligibility for using medical marijuana knew that she was pregnant. Because the use of marijuana under AMMA ‘must be considered the equivalent of the use of any other medication under the direction of a physician,’ A.R.S. § 36-2813(C), the exposure of Ridgell’s infant to marijuana resulted from medical treatment and did not constitute neglect under A.R.S. § 8-201(25)(c).”
Ridgell’s legal representation, Julie Gunnigle, worked pro bono on her case. “It basically says Lindsay was right all along,” Gunnigle said.
After numerous years have passed, Ridgell told the Phoenix New Times that she was relieved that the judges ruled in support of her case. “I feel so happy. A weight has lifted from my shoulders and I feel free,” Ridgell said. “This means a lot to myself and my family. I can finally go back into social work and hopefully earn a higher wage than I have been the past couple years, as well as find more fulfillment in work. I miss helping people, especially kids.”
Ridgell received a medical cannabis card 10 years ago to help treat irritable bowel syndrome. In 2018, when she confirmed she was pregnant, she was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, otherwise known as extreme morning sickness. The condition led her to return to the emergency room numerous times in order to seek treatment.
The court’s “facts and procedural history” notes that her child stopped breathing and needed to be resuscitated after birth. After nurses witnessed the baby’s “jitteriness,” he was transferred to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital for further evaluation. “The hospital performed a drug test, which was positive for marijuana, Buspar, caffeine, and Benadryl, and [they] diagnosed him with intrauterine addictive drug exposure,” the case record states.
Ridgell’s case garnered support from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Academy of Perinatal Harm Reduction, and comedian Amy Schumer among many other doctors and advocates. Schumer in particular also suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, the symptoms of which are seen in an HBO Max series called Expecting Amy.