Ohio voters failed to legalize medical marijuana Tuesday—a law that could have prevented what's now happening to Hollie Sanford and her family. The Cleveland mom tried to alleviate extreme morning sickness and sciatic nerve pain during her pregnancy by drinking marijuana tea, a substance she tells Fox 8 she thoroughly researched and determined was safer than other alternatives. "THC, the psychoactive element, doesn't reach the baby after it's metabolized through my body," she says. "So it's not like the baby is stoned." But when her daughter, Nova, was born "very healthy" on Sept. 26, per court records, the infant was given a drug test—a test the Sanfords' lawyer says was taken without the parents' consent. The baby tested positive for a non-psychoactive byproduct of marijuana and was ordered removed from her family by a Juvenile Court magistrate, who said there was "immediate or threatened physical or emotional harm," the Plain Dealer reports.
Who's on Sanford's side: the county child services department, which says it only asked for "protective supervision" and that taking Nova "would only serve to disrupt the bond the child would develop with her parents," per a motion filed by an assistant county prosecuting attorney. The department also notes that it often battles Eleanore Hilow, the judge who threw the gavel down, for "rulings disregarding the agency's professional opinion and the opinions of other professionals in the courtroom," per the Plain Dealer. Sanford's lawyer agrees, calling Hilow "ill tempered" and with a rep for "punitive decisions." In the meantime, Sanford hopes her baby will be back home soon. "If people want to say I'm a terrible parent, that's their right," Sanford tells the paper. "I know in my heart that I'm an excellent mother." Nova is now with a family member, who was allowed to take the baby in so she wouldn't have to go to foster care; a hearing is set for December.
Attorney Joseph Jacobs, who is representing the Sanfords, said a drug test was wrongfully performed on the baby at Fairview Hospital.
He said the screenings are run when public assistance or Medicaid is paying for the hospital services but the hardworking Sanfords are not on public assistance and have private insurance.
“They never even asked us,” said Hollie, “They tested my baby’s diaper with the meconium stool.”
A urine sample was negative but the meconium stool, which is composed of materials from inside the womb, tested positive for a bi-product of marijuana.
Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services got involved immediately, despite court records documenting a “normal delivery” and that the baby was “very healthy at birth.” In addition to that, records show there was "no evidence the child was exposed to THC or suffered from withdrawal.”
Daniel Sanford said none of that seemed to matter at the hospital. “The case worker came in and said 'you guys can leave, but you can not take your daughter.'"
The couple was able to get Nova placed with a family member with the help of their attorney as they continue to fight the custody battle in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court.
They said Magistrate Eleanore Hilow wouldn’t listen to evidence involving the tea or to case workers who recommended the baby stay with her parents.
Court records show Hilow determined “removal necessary," citing “immediate or threatened physical or emotional harm.”
Attorney Jacobs filed an immediate appeal requesting an immediate/ emergency custody hearing to return Nova to her parents.
He said even CCDCFS workers testified that it would be more harmful than good to take the infant away from her parents.
Fox 8 reached out to the courts about the case but have not received a comment.
A hearing date isn’t scheduled until December.
In the meantime, Hollie and Daniel said they are visiting Nova every day, trying to build and maintain a nurturing parental bond.
“It’s very hard. We’re just trying to be optimistic and count our blessings; that's what keeps us going,” said Hollie. “I do not have a dependency issue. I am not addicted to marijuana as has been clearly shown with my clean drug tests.”