For immediate release
NEW YORK — Today, Pregnancy Justice co-counsel Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP filed an application with the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking the court to put a stop to the prosecution of women for using lawfully prescribed medical marijuana during pregnancy.
In 2019, Oklahoma’s Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act (MMPPA) went into effect, legalizing medical marijuana in the state for all adults with a valid medical marijuana license from the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Despite this, several prosecutors have brought felony child neglect charges against pregnant women for using medical marijuana, lawfully and pursuant to the MMPPA, in direct violation of the MMPPA’s protections against criminal or civil prosecution. Felony child neglect charges carry a potential life sentence.
These prosecutions may also leave medical providers uncertain about whether medical marijuana truly is a viable treatment option for patients, even though voters have already settled this matter, and the Oklahoma Legislature passed the MMPPA by a wide bipartisan margin in both chambers.
The application is filed on behalf of Brittany Gunsolus, but reporting by The Frontier has revealed at least eight cases in which mothers have been charged with felony child neglect charges for their use of legal medical marijuana in multiple counties. During Ms. Gunsolus’ pregnancy, she received prenatal care. In October 2020, she gave birth to a healthy baby. Although her baby tested positive for THC, it exhibited no signs of harm from such exposure. Ms. Gunsolus had legally obtained a license to use medical marijuana in September 2020 and had subsequently used that legal medication in lotion and edible form according to the recommendation of her physician. DHS investigated and found the allegation of neglect or harm due to the exposure “unsubstantiated,” reporting that Ms. Gunsolus’ home was clean and “safe.”
Nevertheless, Kyle Cabelka, the district attorney of Comanche and Cotton counties, charged Ms. Gunsolus with felony child neglect on the sole basis of her newborn allegedly testing positive for traces of medical marijuana. Her child remains completely healthy. Her trial date is currently scheduled for January 2024, and if Ms. Gunsolus’ trial proceeds, she could face up to a life sentence in prison.
“Ms. Gunsolus engaged in legal conduct, and being pregnant doesn’t turn legal conduct into illegal conduct,” said Pregnancy Justice President Lourdes A. Rivera. “Being pregnant doesn’t automatically exclude you from the protections of laws, and prosecutors cannot rewrite laws or charge people simply because they dislike certain behaviors.”
Based on Pregnancy Justice’s analysis of pregnancy criminalization across the nation, Oklahoma is among the top four states where authorities pursue these cases. To highlight this issue and advocate for change, Pregnancy Justice recently coordinated Oklahoma’s first legislative study on the surge of pregnancy criminalization, testifying alongside local medical experts and advocacy partners on the harms of carceral approaches toward pregnant women and the dangers of mandatory reporting to the “child welfare system.”
Pregnancy Justice works to ensure that no one loses their rights because of their capacity for pregnancy or pregnancy outcome, focusing on people who are most at risk of state control and criminalization: those who are low-income, of color, or use drugs.