Judge rules in favor of mother who used medical cannabis during pregnancy under doctor’s orders


A woman who consumed medical cannabis while pregnant did not act in a negligent manner against her unborn child, ruled a judge at the Arizona Court of Appeals

The ruling overturns Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) Director Mike Faust’s decision to feature Lindsay Ridgell a former DCS employee on the agency’s Central Registry.

Based on the ruling, the woman will not be penalized by being placed on an employment-limiting list. Listings of this kind usually last for 25 years.

The registry is specially drafted to highlight people who have abused or neglected their young. 

Being included on the list makes it difficult for the named individual to seek employment  that involves being close to children and/or endangered populations.

Judge ruled in favor of plaintiff because her medicine was legitimately prescribed

In a written court statement, leading Judge Randall Howe pronounced that Ridgell’s medical cannabis use while pregnant was acceptable, since it had been prescribed by a licensed doctor for nausea relief.

The judge added that Ridgell’s situation should be considered the same as any other pregnant woman who takes prescription under the guidance of a doctor.

Ridgell’s cannabis use was protected by the AMMA (Arizona Medical Marijuana Act), and that protection extends to prenatally exposing her infant to cannabis,” reads an excerpt from Howe’s court ruling. “The extent of that protection may be unwise.”

Voters legalized medical cannabis across Arizona in 2010, before legalizing the plant for recreational purposes in 2020.

Although Ridgell failed to return a call for comment, her lawyer, Julie Gunnigle, emphasized the importance of the judge’s decision since it validates how medical cannabis consumption should be dealt with in child welfare cases.

It remains uncertain as to whether or not the DCS, which is currently reviewing the judge’s opinion on medical cannabis use during pregnancy, will appeal the ruling.

Baby tests positive in case of medical cannabis-consuming pregnant woman

Ridgell’s case emerged shortly after she gave birth in the year 2019. Since the baby tested positive for cannabis, the hospital were legally obligated to inform DCS.

Based on Arizona state law, a parent who exposes her child to substances is deemed to be neglectful. Only in the case of a mother being treated by a medical professional will the mother be let off the hook.

DCS investigators argued that Ridgell was in the wrong because she failed to inform pregnancy-involved doctors about her cannabis use, despite being in possession of a medical cannabis card.

The DCS decision was then appealed by Ridgell to an administrative law judge, before being dismissed by Director Faust, who contested that Ridgell’s poor communication made her guilty of neglect. 

Fighting back once again, Ridgell turned her attention in the direction of the state appeals court. After arguing that she received a doctor’s permission to obtain medical cannabis with a patient card, Judge Howe ruled in her favor.