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Mother in New York City Wins Cannabis Lawsuit

Mother in New York City Wins Cannabis Lawsuit
Mother in New York City Wins Cannabis Lawsuit | ACS of NY

The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) in New York City has settled a landmark cannabis lawsuit, prompted by a parent’s accusation of targeting her for cannabis use and taking custody of her newborn son.

The parent, Chanetto Rivers, is set to receive over $75,000 in addition to coverage for legal fees. She accused New York City and its child welfare agency of separating her from her son after they both tested positive for marijuana in August 2021.

Rivers, who is Black, filed a lawsuit in May alleging ACS pursued her for marijuana use due to her race. She pointed to a history of similar complaints against the agency, which preceded the alleged violation of state law.

Smoked Cannabis at a Cookout

The case revolves around a cookout in the summer of 2021, five months after New York state legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Rivers attended a family cookout and smoked cannabis, according to the New York Times. She then experienced contractions and went to the hospital to give birth.

The Times reported that while preparing to deliver her baby, identified in court papers as T.W., healthcare workers asked if she had consumed drugs or alcohol. When she said she had smoked cannabis, both she and T.W. were tested without her consent or knowledge. Both tested positive for marijuana. Two days later, ACS informed Rivers it was opening a neglect case and moved to place T.W. in foster care.

ACS policy states that “marijuana in an infant’s system is not grounds for removal without a finding that the baby might be impaired. The agency made no finding of impairment,” according to the Times. However, it took Rivers nearly a week, multiple trips to court and a judge’s order — over the objections of ACS — to gain custody of T.W. and bring him home from the hospital, BronxCare Health System.

Even after all of these complications, ACS made unannounced home visits, according to the lawsuit, for three more months, including in the middle of the night.

The First Case of Its Kind

Rivers filed her lawsuit in U.S. District Court. federal court. The complaint states, “Even after a judge mandated ACS to reunite Ms. Rivers with her baby, ACS continued to subject Ms. Rivers to needless court proceedings and a litany of conditions that interfered with her parenting of T.W. for months, while the unlawful removal of her baby was ratified by senior ACS leadership. This was not because ACS was trying to protect T.W.; this was because Ms. Rivers is Black.”

ACS has faced similar accusations regarding race, according to the Times, as well as aggressively pursuing cases involving marijuana use. According to the New York Daily News, an ACS spokeswoman addressed the controversial case, saying the agency was just looking after the child’s safety, saying the agency assesses child safety “on a case-by-case basis, looking at actual or potential harm to a child and the parent’s capacity to care for the child,”

“State and city policy is that a parent’s use of marijuana is not in and of itself a basis for indicating a report or filing a neglect case. This means that a case should not be indicated solely because a parent is using marijuana, but instead a child protective specialist should assess the impact, if any, on the safety and well-being of the child.”

Rivers said the lawsuit verdict is a victory not just for herself. “I didn’t just bring this lawsuit for myself, but for every Black family that ACS has ripped apart,” Rivers said, according to the Daily News. “They know what they did was wrong. And now, they’re on notice.”

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