Maternal cannabis users risk severe legal sanctions, despite lack of evidence proving fetal endangerment

Emily Gray Brosious


Little evidence exists to prove pre-natal pot exposure is harmful for fetus development; but that hasn’t stopped over zealous authorities from acting as if proof did exist.

An Ohio woman who used marijuana-based tea to ease labor pains was recently rudely awakened to the harsh reality of how marijuana-consuming parents, particularly expectant mothers, are treated by certain government agencies in this country.

Hollie Sanford was “devastated” when a Juvenile Court magistrate ordered her newborn baby be taken away from her, against the advice of county workers who said it would be harmful to remove the newborn from her parents, as reported by

Sanford said she knew she would be judged by her decision to use marijuana-based tea rather than prescription pain medication to ease labor pain, but she had no idea the court would take it this far.


“It’s outrageous,” Attorney Joseph Jacobs said. “The decision has no basis in law or science. There was no harm done to this child other than the removal from her Mom and Dad.”



Medical irony

Marijuana is widely known to treat pain, nausea, fatigue and stress — conditions that frequently occur during pregnancy.

Particularly when it comes to morning sickness — which can be debilitating for some pregnant women — cannabis treatment can be extremely effective.

Dr. Anthony Anzalone, a general practitioner from New Jersey who did obstetrics for 25 years, says marijuana can be potentially risky for a fetus, but he says the risks of untreated Hyperemesis Gravidarum (severe morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy) are far worse. He’s one of the few doctors in the country who would prescribe marijuana to pregnant women if he could, as reported by The Daily Beast.

“We don’t prescribe it to pregnant women because of malpractice lawsuits,” he said. “If something were to happen to the fetus, [people] would try to blame it on the marijuana.”

Getting medical marijuana prescribed during pregnancy is next to impossible even in states where medical marijuana is legal. That’s because patients need a physician to approve the marijuana prescription and almost none will do that for a pregnant patient, according to The Daily Beast.

Per The Daily Beast:

Perhaps this isn’t surprising. The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG) has repeatedly warned against using marijuana in pregnancy, citing insufficient data to determine any harmful side effects. “In the absence of data,” ACOG states, “marijuana use is discouraged.”

In some states, pregnant women can even be arrested for marijuana use, in violation of so-called “Chemical Endangerment Laws” that are swiftly gaining popularity.



Shaky science 

According to the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML):

Logic presumes that if pre-natal exposure to intoxicants such as alcohol and tobacco poses proven health risks to the fetus, then exposure to pot would likely pose similar risks to a child’s health and development. Nevertheless, much of the science surrounding this issue says otherwise – though a definitive answer remains elusive.

NORML proposes two major reasons for this general absence of conclusive evidence on the subject of cannabis and pregnancy.

First, it’s more or less impossible for researchers to get permission to conduct a clinical trial that exposes pregnant mothers and their unborn children to cannabis.

Second, most mothers refuse to admit if they have used cannabis during pregnancy because of the severe legal sanctions that might be levied on them as a result of the admission.


Among the handful of surveys that have been conducted, several fail to adequately control for mothers’ use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs during the course of their pregnancy.

As a result, much of the published data assessing the extent of maternal pot use and its health implications remains limited to historical texts, studies from non-Western cultures (where the use of cannabis has gained greater social acceptability), and retrospective survey data.


It should be noted that scientists today are just now beginning to understand the role of endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system in reproduction, including their role in pre-natal and post-natal development. Whether the future understanding of this system will shed additional light on the health implications of maternal pot smoking remains to be seen.

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