Strains are tested for levels of various cannabinoids to help patients and budtenders know the strength and traits of the plant. This sample of Stevie Wonder is from Pure Medical Dispensary. (Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Ask The Cannabist: I tested positive for pot after I had my baby. Now what?

Welcome to our Ask The Cannabist column. Clearly you have questions about marijuana, be it a legal concern, a health curiosity, a Colorado-centric inquiry or something more far-reaching. Check out our expansive, 100-question Colorado marijuana FAQ first, and if you’re still curious, email your question to Ask The Cannabist at

Hey, Cannabist!
Hello, I’m in need of advice, and I’m not sure who to ask. During my recent pregnancy I used marijuana to cure my nausea and depression. It was the only thing that seemed to actually work. On the day of my delivery they told me they would have to drug test me — and if I were to refuse, they would drug test my baby. So I went ahead with the test, and I came up positive.

I’m so confused because I live in Colorado and thought pot was legal? Anyway, my doctor told me that they would have to contact Child Protective Services about this. She said they would call me to set up a time to come to the house. It’s been two weeks now, and I haven’t heard from them. I am scared! I smoke for anxiety and depression, and I can’t medicate myself in fear of them taking my baby. What should I do? I was told not to breastfeed and smoke, but my daughter hates formula, and also I feel as if breastfeeding is by far a better choice.
–Mother Mary Jane  

Hey, Mother Mary Jane!
You are in a difficult situation, no doubt. I asked Warren Edson, a marijuana and criminal defense attorney, for information regarding drug testing new mothers in Colorado. Edson says this problem “shouldn’t be answered in an article because the answer is so dependent on the exact situation.”

Edson specifies: “Yes, there are various ways they can get the right to test a pregnant woman’s blood. Yes, they can start a dependency and neglect case and potentially remove your child due to a positive result. There are various rights throughout the various stages of the process. It is really a complex situation.”

Colorado law defining child abuse and/or neglect includes any case “in which a child tests positive at birth for either a schedule I controlled substance … or a schedule II controlled substance.” Since marijuana is federally defined as a Schedule I controlled substance, a positive marijuana drug test from a child is legally defined as child abuse or neglect in Colorado.

Last year, the state created a task force called the  Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee & Occupational Health and Safety Workgroup to review scientific literature and make public health recommendations. 

In the report released in January, Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, literature findings were mixed, insufficient and limited. The state released a guide a few months later telling all pregnant women to steer clear of pot use.

“You should not use marijuana while you are pregnant, just like you should not use alcohol and tobacco,” the Marijuana and Your Baby report reads. “Using marijuana while you are pregnant passes THC to your baby.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML and the NORML Foundation and the 2013 Alfred R. Lindesmith Award recipient, shared a few relevant medical studies from his research. Armentano assessed marijuana and pregnancy studies in a 2007 medical literature review. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics observed THC can rapidly transfer through the placenta to the fetus. THC can also pass through breast milk. In a 2010 National Birth Defects Study, after adjustments for study variables, cannabis use was not associated with mean birth weight or gestational age or with low birth weight or preterm delivery.  

More studies are needed. In the meantime, the state is taking precautions to protect children. Colorado Department of Public Health does not recommend cannabis use by mothers. XO

Parenting: No easy answers about cannabis use and breastfeeding