Whenever a police officer is requested to check on the welfare of a child, the parent has some important questions to answer. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Parenting: Lessons from Child Protective Services

I recently spent some time on the phone with a representative from the child-abuse hotline for Denver Human Services. The looming fear of police knocking on my door late at night had kept me from ever questioning my rights. But I knew I had to man up, make the call and set the record straight. I know many of you have wanted to do the same, but no one wants to be reported in some Orwellian twist of fate.

“But this isn’t 1984. It’s 2014, and marijuana is legal!” you say.

Well, yes. But while recreational marijuana is legal, that doesn’t mean child protective services (a branch of DHS) won’t investigate if your neighbor reports you as a pot-using parent. Child safety is a major concern for lawmakers, child welfare agencies and advocates — now more than ever. Legalizing marijuana use doesn’t mean authorities are going to be OK with you smoking a joint in your house while your kids watch television in the next room. When any intoxicant is being used by mom or dad, responsible use and child welfare have to be top priorities.

So what happens if your concerned neighbor reports you as a pot-smoking parent? Depending on which agency they call, a police officer or representative of child protective services will make a visit to your home. Can you refuse them entry without a warrant? Maybe … but I wouldn’t recommend it. You should have nothing to hide, right?

They will want to come inside and ascertain the welfare of your child. They are looking to make sure you haven’t neglected your little one. Is he or she unkempt? (This can also translate into how well your home is kept.) Does he or she have a dirty diaper that looks hours old? Is your kiddo screaming to be fed while you are lighting up in the bathroom? 

Your stash will most likely be checked. If you are a medical patient, you can possess up to 2 ounces; up to 1 ounce is allowed for a recreational user. Your marijuana needs to be secure and out of reach of children. As my son gets older and becomes more mobile and curious, I’ve become obsessed with getting a secure lockbox. I will continue to store pot in a place completely inaccessible to him, but that extra protection doesn’t hurt.

Another thing that an officer or child protective services representative will take into account is whether your home reeks of cannabis. This is a big no-no and an indication to them that you are partaking far too much and/or far too often. Like alcohol, you cannot abuse marijuana and expect to be perceived as an in-control person or parent.

The authorities want to make sure you are able to make quick decisions should an emergency occur. So, if your child crawls out of their crib in the middle of the night and gets hurt, are you capable of giving them the help they need? I was told that for both parents to be under the influence at the same time is very much frowned upon.

More Pot and Parenting columns

Yes, my son knows I smoke marijuana.

For parents, there is a line — don’t cross it.

And without argument there are some really gray areas. It is fully legal for an adult age 21 or older to smoke marijuana, but child protective services does not want parents smoking in their home at any time their child is also in the home. You could smoke outside, but I was warned that doing so was taking a risk that could lead to people seeing and reporting you.

So what is a caregiver who consumes cannabis to do? I asked myself this question after my nearly hour-long conversation with the child-abuse hotline, during which I sweated completely through two shirts. Unfortunately for all involved, there are no easy answers.

I will venture to say that using edibles, infusions or vaporizing marijuana would be the way to avoid smoking (and the smell of smoke) inside your house. Ensure you are taking the proper precautions with your supply of marijuana — it needs to be absolutely unavailable to kids and in a childproof container. And don’t get blazed with your partner. One of you needs to be sober and able to handle pressure and quick decision making.

If you don’t feel confident enough to give a police officer a grand tour of your home at any time … you need to make some changes. If you can’t say without a doubt that an officer could walk in and determine you’re a capable and clear-minded parent, then you need to rectify that before partaking. Essentially whether your kid stays in your home is a case-by-case judgment call that only a law enforcement officer can make (child protective services would not be able to take your child without an officer’s involvement).

If that officer feels your child could be in immediate danger, he or she will remove your child. And that’s not worth the hit that sent you “one toke over the line,” is it?