A Massachusetts YMCA has apologized for threatening to call the authorities on parents at the facility who smelled like marijuana.
The controversy arose from a letter displayed at multiple facilities in the Springfield area operated by the YMCA. Penned by the organization’s Executive Director of Youth Development Uriah Rodriguez, the letter chastised attendees and referenced numerous complaints about parents and guardians smelling like cannabis when they come to collect their kids.
“Staff at the YMCA of Greater Springfield have smelled some of you out and have been instructed to document instances of anyone suspected of being under the influence,” the letter said.
It went on to state that while marijuana is now legal in Massachusetts, caring for children while under the influence can be considered neglect, especially when it comes to operating a motor vehicle. Rodriguez then noted that while the YMCA doesn’t care what people do in their free time, the very odor of marijuana was unwelcome in the hallowed halls of their gyms.
“When your habit follows you into our facility it raises concerns about you being under the influence,” the letter said.
Rodriguez went on to say YMCA employees were mandated to report their concerns.
“Before you drop your child and/or children off ‘Smell Check’, if you come into our facilities and you or your child smell like marijuana or any other illegal substance, we will notify DCF [Department of Children & Families] and local Police,” the letter closed.
The letter made waves on social media after it was posted by Springfield RnB artist and radio host Pharaoh Bacon, who asked why the YMCA would put families into this kind of situation. One commenter said they had reached out to the YMCA about the letter and received this response.
“This letter was distributed prematurely and does not accurately reflect our policies. We will be clarifying our policy next week. Our only concern is the safety of the kids and someone driving while under the influence of any substances that could affect their safety. It is not to jump to conclusions. Sorry to upset you and we are working to clarify.”
Other commenters noted the various reasons one might smell like marijuana without being under the influence, like recently trimming your homegrown or using a topical oil.
In the wake of the controversy, a report from the Boston Globe noted that under state law, legal marijuana consumption and other legal conduct related to the pot industry, like working in a grow, cannot be the sole or primary basis for the state to take action against a parent. Legally, that kind of action includes removing children from their custody, denying visitation or infringing on other parental rights and responsibilities. The Globe said the only exception to this policy would be when there exists clear evidence a person’s actions related to marijuana have endangered a child.
State Rep. Dave Rogers told the Globe that the staff of the YMCA seemed to be unaware of the actual law.
“The Springfield YMCA is articulating a rationale in that letter that simply doesn’t withstand common sense and the reality of how the odor of cannabis works,” Rogers said. “It would be unwise and really contrary to the law for a mandated reporter to file a report with DCF based on the mere odor. This section of the law is pretty clear.”
When the Globe reached Rodriguez for comment, he said he regretted giving the impression the YMCA objected to marijuana consumption and also stated that he received some positive feedback about the letter from “members concerned about other parents using the drug.”
Greater Springfield YMCA President and Chief Executive Dexter Johnson told the Globe he was “fuming” when saw the letter and reassured the public that the YMCA had never reported a parent to the state over the smell of marijuana.
In a letter this week, he noted the YMCA’s staff understands the smell of marijuana does not necessarily indicate and apologized for any confusion resulting from the first letter.
TELL US, has anyone ever threatened you for smelling like cannabis?