Raymond Schwab, an honorably discharged veteran, moved to Colorado last year to get treated for post-traumatic stress and chronic pain with medical marijuana.
He didn’t expect Kansas would take his children in return.
“They’re basically using my kids as a pawn to take away freedoms I fought for,” he said. “It’s a horrible position to put me in.”
He and his wife, Amelia, say Kansas took the five youngest of their six children into custody last April, and they’ve only seen them three times since.
“I don’t think what we’re doing is illegal, immoral or wrong,” Amelia said.
The Schwabs’ case highlights how differences in marijuana laws can make a legal user in one state an unfit parent across the border.
They’re not the only Kansas parents at risk of losing their children over cannabis use. In Garden City, medical marijuana advocate Shona Banda was arrested on child-endangerment and felony drug charges after her 11-year-old son talked about his mother’s drug use at school.
Kansas has rejected legislative efforts to permit medical marijuana use. Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, then passed a referendum in 2012 that allows recreational use as well.
More on medical marijuana
Cannabist Show discussion: Did legalization help or hurt Colorado medical marijuana patients?
New Colorado MMJ laws for 2015: Revised caregiver plant-count limits, medical marijuana use in schools OK’d by Gov. John Hickenlooper
Veterans support group: Washington state veterans form pro-cannabis support group focused on reducing suicide rates
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Child welfare officials in Kansas did not return phone calls Wednesday concerning the Schwabs.
Raymond Schwab is a 40-year-old Gulf War veteran. He served from 1994 to 1996 in the Navy and later qualified for a 50 percent disability rating.
He lived in Colorado when the state legalized medical marijuana and obtained his own card.
He also tried to treat his symptoms with an assortment of medicines prescribed by the Department of Veterans Affairs — pain medicines, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety drugs — but “they were making me crazy, they made me worse,” he said.
Finally he developed a heroin addiction, but said he overcame that years ago with cannabis therapy.
The turning point in his family life began with a VA job offer in 2013. He went to Topeka to work as a benefits agent for fellow veterans.
“I loved it. I loved my job,” he said tearfully.
But two years later, he decided to transfer to a VA job in Denver, where medical cannabis is legal. That’s when a family squabble led to the loss of five children aged 5 to 16.
Raymond and Amelia say that as they were packing to leave, her mother took the kids to a police station in another county and reported them abandoned, an action her mother now regrets.
Nine months later, they say, child-protection workers and a Kansas judge are demanding that they give up cannabis if they want their kids back.
One condition, they say, is four months of drug-free urinalysis tests, including a drug legal in Colorado for therapeutic uses.
Raymond remains skeptical and worried. “What if I didn’t make it through four months?” he asked. He fears his condition might worsen without cannabis.
He and his wife question why Kansas child-protection workers are holding onto children who should not have entered their system in the first place.
Among the documents Raymond carries in a battered briefcase is the one-page result of a Kansas child-abuse investigation.
It shows that in April 2015, the state began investigating allegations that Raymond and Amelia emotionally abused all five children. Three months later, those allegations were dismissed as unsubstantiated.
So, “why do you still have my children?” he asked.
David Olinger: 303-954-1498, firstname.lastname@example.org or @dolingerdp