Drug Law

Alabama Newborn Tests Positive for Marijuana; Mom Charged

| by NORML
By "Radical" Russ Belville

In terms of comments, one of the most popular posts I’ve had on the Stash Blog since 2008 is Mom booked, baby born with marijuana in system, with 130 comments.  I’ve written another post entitled Alabama mother arrested when newborn tests positive for marijuana metabolites.  Today we return to Alabama for another one of these sad stories of mothers losing their infants and possibly their liberty for positive drug tests at the hospital following giving birth.

(Alabamas13.com) FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Florence police say a woman was arrested after her newborn baby tested positive for having marijuana in her system.

Police say 35-year-old Jennifer Lynn Sopanos of Florence, is charged with chemical endangerment of a child.

Sopanos’ baby boy was born March 16 at Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital. Police say he tested positive for THC, the main active chemical in marijuana. Ppolice detective Keith Johnson said Sopanos also tested positive for THC.

According to the hospital, it’s not commonplace to drug test infants when they’re born…

(WAFF) A spokesperson at ECM Hospital in Florence would not comment on what triggered the test of Sopanos’ baby, citing HIPPA laws, but did say it is not standard procedure to test for drugs in a newborn’s system.

There are several different parameters that doctors and medical staff look into before deciding whether or not to test a newborn.

Officials said the two biggest factors are medical history of the mother or possible concerns a doctor might have.

…an intake address listing a low-income apartment, a Grateful Dead sticker on her VW van, wearing a tie-dyed sundress, naming the newborn “Starshine”… I’m sure they’ve got quite the comprehensive and fair set of standards for deciding whose infants they’re going to test for drugs.  But you know, it’s not a bad idea to make sure infants are protected from their mother’s use of meth, cocaine, opiates, even alcohol and tobacco, though I can’t recall any “chemical endangerment of a child” prosecutions or tests for mother’s tobacco use.

However, it makes no sense to prosecute for a mother’s use of cannabis.  Expectant mothers have used cannabis for over 5,000 years and if there were serious effects from that, we’d have seen it by now.  Melanie Dreher’s work in studying cannabis-only smoking Rastafarian moms in Jamaica found no detriment in the children of cannabis-using moms and many other studies have backed that up (read Paul Armentano’s excellent review here).

There are some studies that conclude that heavy maternal use, especially in the first and second trimester, can affect the later verbal and memory skills in children.  So let’s pretend that 5,000 years of maternal use hasn’t taught us anything and that marijuana smoking could be very harmful to the fetus.  And we already know maternal use of other drugs is very harmful.  At least now the mother’s drug use – cannabis or something harmful – can be addressed in rehab and she can become a fine mother of her newborn, right?

(TimesDaily.com) Jennifer Lynn Sopanos, 35, 2115 Lauderdale 11, Florence, is charged with chemical endangerment of a child, authorities said. The charge is a Class C felony and is punishable by a prison sentence of 1-10 years, if convicted.

Well, I’m sure that being raised by some foster family for 1-10 years while mom sits in a cell won’t be as harmful to the child as mom toking some weed to beat back morning sickness and pain.