By Nina Zdinjak
Since 2019, at least 26 women in Oklahoma were charged with child neglect felonies for consuming cannabis while pregnant, according to The Frontier. The punishment for this crime can be life in prison, though the previous offenders who pleaded guilty were given probation.
Of those 26 women, at least eight were medical marijuana license holders, meaning they were allowed to legally buy and use cannabis, having a doctor’s recommendation.
Nevertheless, the problem boils down to whether medical marijuana can be treated as an “illegal drug,” because if it can, the law is clear pregnant women can be charged with child neglect for consuming illegal drugs while pregnant. Women in Oklahoma have been prosecuted even after giving birth to healthy babies.
Wait a second, isn’t medical marijuana legal in Oklahoma for registered patients?
That’s right, those who have a license from the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority are allowed to buy and consume marijuana and there are no rules prohibiting pregnant women to use cannabis or have a license. According to state law, physicians are not obligated to determine if patients are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy soon before they provide them with a medical marijuana license.
On the other hand, medical marijuana products in the state have warnings against use during pregnancy, similar to those on cigarette packs.
Most medical professionals agree on advising against using marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy.
Brian Hermanson, one of the two prosecutors in Oklahoma who has brought charges against those pregnant women, believes this is a felony.
“If they make bad decisions about using drugs while they’re pregnant, they’re probably going to make other bad decisions when raising the child,” he said last November.
Ryan Kiesel, a civil rights attorney, and former Oklahoma lawmaker, on the other hand, thinks that these prosecutions are “inconsistent with state law.”
“Those women are protected as medical marijuana patients under the law,” Kiesel said. “It’s important to remember, if you have a medical marijuana license, you are under the care of a physician.”
The number of women in the U.S. who turn to cannabis while pregnant has notably increased over time. Between 2002 and 2017, the figure went from under 6% to 12%, as per data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
What about Oklahoma? The numbers don’t look great. Since the state legalized medical marijuana in 2018, the number of state newborns who tested positive for cannabis grew by more than 160%.
What Are The Impacts Of Cannabis Use While Pregnant?
Unfortunately, there are not enough relevant scientific studies on this topic, as marijuana couldn’t be researched for a long time, because of its status as a Schedule 1 substance.
More and more new studies indeed indicate there are negative consequences to children whose mothers consumed cannabis while pregnant, it is hard to confirm that the consequence came only from cannabis use. As Dr. Mishka Terplan, who has researched substance use in pregnancy and has helped develop American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist guidance on addiction says, the impact of marijuana exposure can be very hard to separate from tobacco use, stress, and any other health and environmental factors.
After all, women are advised not to take any legal drugs while pregnant, like painkillers or alcohol, right? It is not so strange to see women smoking a cigarette with a huge bump, even though the negative consequences of cigarette smoke to unborn children has been known for a while now. What about stress?
And yet, no one is prosecuting pregnant women who smoke or drink. Well, isn’t that a bit hypocritical, if child care is the main concern in these prosecutions?