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Jul 9, 2013 8:33 PM by Andy Koen

Couple claims they were denied custody because of medical marijuana use

PEYTON - Doug and Patricia Rohrick want to adopt their 10 month old great-granddaughter Saya but say they were turned away by the El Paso County Department of Human Services because they are medical marijuana patients.

The baby girl actually lived with the Rohrick's for about 5 months when her mother, their granddaughter, decided to take the baby to live with her father. Child welfare officers subsequently intervened and the baby is currently being cared for by a foster family.

Doug says they have been upfront about their marijuana use ever since the start of the adoption process and it didn't seem to be an issue until yesterday. The Rohrick's had just come from court and were meeting with the foster family to talk about the transfer of Saya when a DHS employee told them they couldn't have the baby.

"They walked in with a cell phone in the air and handed it around to everybody and said the deputy director of DHS has stated that anybody with a medical marijuana card could not have custody of any children," Doug said.

Rick Bengtsson, the Executive Director of El Paso County DHS and tell News 5 he doesn't have a deputy director, and says there is no such policy denying relatives custody because of marijuana use. Instead, he says custody decisions are based on the child's safety and well-being.

"When it comes to marijuana use, we're going to identify what's the reasoning for that use," Bengtsson said. "We're probably going to consult with their doctor to see is it medically necessary, is it going to interfere with the parenting of the child."

The county has placed children with marijuana users in the past and Doug says even he built a locked fence around his marijuana plants after getting advice from DHS employees about how to best secure the drug. He can't think of any other reason the county would deny them custody.

Colorado Department of Human Services spokesperson Liz McDonough confirms there is no direct policy at a state level denying custody because of the use of any specific drug. McDonough says state guidelines are written with an emphasis on child safety regardless of the controlled substance in question.

Bengtsson emailed the following directive that he issued to his management team in 2010 regarding marijuana use for licensed foster homes and child placement agencies in El Paso County.

"I wanted to clarify and re-affirm that EPC will not place children in licensed foster homes if a foster parent is using or intends to use medical marijuana, even though under state law they may do so legally. We need to convey this position to our managers and CPAs."

The Rohrick's say they are prepared to fight the issue in court, if necessary.


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