Ridgell v. Ariz. Dept’t of Child Safety – 3/31/2022

April 20, 2022

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a mother who lawfully uses marijuana under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act during her pregnancy may not be placed on the Department of Child Safety’s Central Registry.

A woman certified to use marijuana under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act used marijuana during her pregnancy.  At birth, her son was diagnosed with prenatal exposure to an addictive drug, which led to an investigation by the Department of Child Safety and a finding of neglect.  Thus, the Department added the mother’s name to the Central Registry, which archives substantiated instances of child abuse and neglect.  The Registry is used to determine whether an individual is qualified to work “with a child welfare agency.”  A.R.S. § 8-804(B)(3).  The mother sought review of the Department’s finding in superior court.  The superior court agreed with the Department.

The Court of Appeals reversed.  The Court focused on whether the mother’s use of marijuana complied with AMMA and whether AMMA protected her.  AMMA protects users from being denied “any right or privilege” because of their marijuana use.  A.R.S. § 36-2811(B).  Because the mother’s use complied with AMMA and placing her name on the Registry denied her the privilege of public employment, the Department erred in placing the mother’s name on the Registry.

Moreover, the Court noted AMMA mandates that marijuana use be considered equivalent to the use of any other medication.  A.R.S. § 36-2813(C).  Because the statutory definition of neglect excludes drug exposure resulting from “medical treatment administered . . . by a health professional,” the mother’s marijuana use did not qualify as neglect.  A.R.S. § 8-201(25)(c).

Judge Howe authored the opinion, in which Judges Furuya and Brown joined.