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Strangle the weed, or mother risks losing custody of child

The Sydney Morning Herald
24 July 2010

Strangle the weed, or mother risks losing custody of child
By Kim Arlington

A magistrate cited Harry Potter's entanglement with evil in his warning to a marijuana-smoking mother, writes Kim Arlington.

Harry Potter and Ron Weasley had Hermione Granger to help them out of trouble; a mother with a weakness for marijuana has the prospect of losing custody of her child to keep her on the straight and narrow.

A federal magistrate drew parallels between the fictional characters and the mother's marijuana use when ruling on the child's care.

Known by the pseudonym Ms Cannon, the woman has a five-year-old son with her estranged husband. She admitted smoking marijuana occasionally, when the child was not in her care. But the boy's father, Mr Cannon, was concerned by her drug use and supposed lack of attention to their son's welfare. He wanted his son to move in with him.

The magistrate, Warwick Neville, last week ruled the boy should live with his mother - but she must undergo drug testing. If she returns two positive tests three times within three months, the boy will live with his father, and have supervised visits with Ms Cannon until she remains drug-free for 12 months.

Conceding it was an imperfect analogy, Mr Neville likened Ms Cannon to Harry and Ron, the boy wizards who, in the first of J. K. Rowling's bestselling books, get caught in a twisting vine called the Devil's Snare.

"The harder they struggle, the more tightly they are ensnared," Mr Neville said. Their rescue, ''courtesy of their valiant friend, Hermione Granger, comes via the shedding of light on the treacherous vine. Like these characters and their plight, it seems to me that Ms Cannon requires some assistance to 'kick this habit' and break free of the ensnarement of this different form of vegetation."

Help for Ms Cannon was ''not provided by a spell from Miss Granger, but the requirement to undertake monthly drug testing for 18 months" - including urine and hair follicle tests.

While accepting Ms Cannon was a committed mother, Mr Neville said her responsibility as a parent ''must take precedence over any fleeting enjoyment or escape provided by her sometime use of marijuana".

There was no evidence the boy had suffered any harm in his mother's care. However, Mr Neville was concerned by Mr Cannon's hyper-vigilant, "almost obsessive parenting", saying it risked smothering the boy. "What might be described as over-protective or claustrophobic parenting can cause as many problems as it seeks to prevent.''

The Federal Magistrates Court in Canberra heard Mr Cannon only wanted the best for his son, moving from Sydney to Canberra to be closer to him. But "his intensity, together with his ongoing mistrust of Ms Cannon, makes for a rather potent parenting cocktail", Mr Neville said.

Believing Ms Cannon was using drugs, Mr Cannon had their son drug-tested without her knowledge. He also complained about her giving the boy food with artificial colouring.

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