The case of 7-month-old Brielle Green and her parents' fight to bring her back home
by Andy Balaskovitz
Maria and Gordon “Steve” Green want to know why being legally registered medical marijuana patients makes them unfit to live with their 7-month-old daughter.
More than 100 people who staged a protest on their behalf in downtown Lansing Tuesday are wondering the same thing.
The Greens, who appeared at a hearing Friday in Ingham County Probate Court, had their 7-month-old daughter, Brielle, removed from their Larch Street home after Child Protective Services successfully petitioned the court to do so. By the same decree, her 6-year-old son, Elliott, for whom she had shared custody with her exhusband, can no longer stay with them. He lives with his father in Genesee County.
The CPS recommendation was based on an interview with Elliott, testified Lori Bundy, a services specialist with the state Department of Human Services, who is working on the case. Bundy said the child told her last month that he had witnessed “medicine flowers” growing at the house. He also reported “various people in the home smoking in the kitchen with children present,” she testified.
Bundy was unable to verify the presence of marijuana in the home, she said during Friday’s hearing, because the Greens refused to let her enter the house without a court order, based on their attorney’s advice.
Maria and Steve Green have felony marijuana charges pending in Oakland County, where they used to live, from an incident in 2011. They said they plan to show the court next month that they were legal under the state medical marijuana law to grow the 29 plants that police found. The Greens have had bond conditions placed on them since January, which include not using controlled substances.
Maria Green, 31, is a caregiver for four medical marijuana patients and is a patient herself to treat multiple sclerosis. Steve Green, 34, uses medical marijuana to treat epilepsy, but he is not a caregiver for others because of a felony larceny conviction when he was 17. Five years ago, Steve Green was also convicted of attempted breaking and entering. Maria Green said, “He was on so many prescriptions for his health problems and he was unaware he was trying to open a door to a building that was not his home.”
All of this factored into attorney referee Rod Porter’s decision Friday to remove Bree from the home. But at the heart of his decision to place Bree into custody of the state Department of Human Services (which in turned placed her with Maria Green’s mother), was that he saw the Greens’ home as unfit because there was medical marijuana growing there, albeit legally.
“It’s reasonable to assume marijuana is being grown in the home with children being present,” Porter said during Friday’s hearing. “That is dangerous for children to be involved with that situation. We have homes in this community robbed at gunpoint by individuals who know children are living in the home. … I’ve had several robbery cases come before me where people on the street hear drugs are being grown in the home, know children are present in the home, choose to break in anyway with guns thinking they’re going to make it rich getting some drugs, marijuana and money.”
Porter also said that Steve Green had tested positive for eight months this year while having bond conditions from the pending charges in Oakland County. It never came up during the hearing, but Steve Green said afterward that he was able to continue using medical marijuana to treat his epilepsy until June, when an Oakland County judge stipulated as a bond condition that he could no longer use marijuana to treat his condition. He tested negative for marijuana on Aug. 15 and has been clean since, according to an Oakland County supervision report that also said he has not violated any bond conditions.
Outside of the hearing room, “disbelief” is how Green described his emotions. “I can’t believe they would do that.”
East Lansing attorney Joshua Covert, who represents the Greens, said Probate Judge Richard Garcia will decide Friday on giving the couple temporary custody. That’s before an Oct. 7 hearing in which Garcia will decide whether the Greens will keep custody. A week before that, Covert plans to request the decision be made by a jury.
“I feel that if we present this to a jury of their peers, they will have a hard time proceeding” with taking Bree away, Covert said. “I believe a jury would be shocked to see what has transpired. The Greens’ fundamental right has been trampled on.”
Covert pointed to a section of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act that says a person shall not lose custody of a minor unless it “creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.”
“Having plants at home locked and potentially using marijuana for medicinal purposes would not put them” in unreasonable danger, Covert said. “I grew up around parents who smoked marijuana openly, illegally. I never once as a child thought my parents were abusing or neglecting me.”
Covert added during a speech at Tuesday’s rally: “What I saw on Friday was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to see. It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
The Department of Human Services won’t comment on individual cases due to privacy concerns, spokesman Dave Akerly said in an email. “But, in general for any case here at DHS, we would look at parenting as being the key factor during an investigation.”
“The safety and well-being of the children involved is always going to be paramount.
Over a hundred people gathered at noon Tuesday outside of the Department of Human Services building on Grand Avenue to protest Bree Green’s removal from her parents. Elected officials, attorneys and advocates stood beside the Greens, erupting occasionally into loud chants of “Free Bree.”
Thomas Lavigne, a Detroit-based attorney with Cannabis Counsel, said the Greens’ case is not isolated and said there’s “a level of xenophobia against medical marijuana patients.”
“Now with our children, this is where we draw the line. This is our red line,” he said, in reference to President Obama’s “red line” comment about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Jim Gierach, a former prosecutor from Chicago who represents the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said the failure of the War on Drugs “is seen on the Green family and this infant Bree. … Bree belongs home.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat who has introduced statewide legislation to decriminalize marijuana, called Porter’s decision Friday “twisted and imbecilic logic.”
“This infant has been taken from her mother. That’s wrong. The rationale the judge employed was that because of a position the parents hold, they’re subject to additional risk of robbery. That is the slippery-est slope I’ve ever heard of.”
Irwin wondered if the same logic could be applied to a wealthy family in a 5,000-square-foot home who might have valuables inside.
“The rich and powerful play by a different set of rules,” Irwin said. “We need a judicial system that follows the clear letter of the law.”
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