You’re a state-licensed caregiver, meaning it’s legal for you to grow cannabis on your property. So you decide, in accordance with the law, to start cultivating some marijuana plants in the same house that you live in with your spouse and children. You’d imagine, as anyone would, that the police would protect your right to do this, what with it being state law and all.

But as Joseph Lightfoot and his wife Amber Wildenstein found out last summer, you can be arrested for child abuse just for raising pot plants in the same house you raise your kids. Lynn Kimbrough, speaking for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, said the police first came to Lightfoot’s home after “a domestic violence call. I think it was another family member who’d called the police and said, ‘They’re fighting. I can hear the kids. Can you check it out?'”

Police determined that “it had only been a verbal argument” and was not a domestic violence situation. So why the child abuse arrest? Kimbrough pointed out that Colorado Revised Statute 18-6-401 states that “a person commits child abuse, if, in the presence of a child, or on the premises where a child is found, or where a child resides… the person knowingly engages in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of a controlled substance.”

Joseph Lightfoot

Lightfoot, originally charged with felony child abuse, is now serving a year’s probation and 60 days of in-home detention. He was also ordered to take a responsible parenting class. The Denver Post reports on the reasoning behind the original felony charges:

 

“They charged Lightfoot and his wife, Amber Wildenstein, with felony child abuse, citing a number of potential hazards to the three children, ages 8 to 12: There wasn’t a lock on the basement door. There were small amounts of cut marijuana elsewhere in the home. The growing operation —with its chemicals, ventilation problems and allure to would-be robbers—brought up “numerous concerns regarding the children,” according to arrest affidavits.”

On Monday, the charges were reduced to two misdemeanor counts of child abuse, to which Lightfoot pleaded guilty.

It’s misleading to say that the charges were based solely on the presence of cannabis plants–it’s pretty obvious that there were present safety risks for the couple’s children. Does that warrant a felony? According to Sensible Colorado’s Brian Vicente and University of Denver law professor Kris Miccio, no. At least, no more than in a home with an unlocked liquor cabinet, cleaning supplies, and valuables which might allure a “would-be robber.”

It’s also telling that Kimbrough herself said: “There was a very strong feeling of concern for the care and safety of the three young children in the home.” Despite that, and there being no documented injury to the children, she still believes that a marijuana grow presents a risk to any kids living on-site.

Austin Wulf is a freelance writer and cannabis advocate who hopes future generations won’t have to deal with marijuana taboos. Read more of his observations on the pro-cannabis movement here.