Colorado: Senate Rejects Regressive Bills That Would Have Removed Kids From Parents Suspected of Drug Use


Vote Signals Emerging Trend Toward Addressing Drug Use as a Public Health Issue

Bills aimed to amend the Colorado criminal and civil code with an expansive definition of drug endangered children were killed on the Senate floor on Tuesday by a vote of 15-20. The proposals attempted to expand the criminal definition of child abuse to include even attempts at drug use and/or possession.

The Drug Policy Alliance has opposed and organized against the legislation since last year when a similar proposal failed to move forward. The organization spearheaded an opposition coalition that includes the ACLU of CO and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

“The proposals do little to protect children but will be effective at criminalizing parents, and tearing apart families,” said Art Way, senior Colorado drug policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. "These bills would have done nothing but provide a way for law enforcement to threaten parental rights and further drug investigations.

"It is clear with this vote that Colorado lawmakers realized these bills would not address any actual concerns about child welfare — and would make it worse," Way said.

According to National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 82 percent of people who use illegal drugs in the past year did so non-problematically. Opponents feared these bills would create barriers for parents trying to access substance abuse treatment by increasing the stigma and consequences for those struggling with substance misuse or use issues.

Laura Pegram, also with the Drug Policy Alliance and a licensed social worker, summed up why the bills were unnecessary and harmful. “Assessments of child abuse and neglect have nothing to do with the legality or illegality of a situation," Pegram said.

"Rather such a judgment should be based on actual harms to the child — by singling out ‘drugs’ above any other types of harm like guns, alcohol, or chemicals these bills will falsely elevate drugs as being more harmful than other substances or situations, which is extremely misleading,” Pegram said.