Erica Marie Tucker is a young Texas mother of five and a five-time convicted felon as of Tuesday.
What did this married, hard-working, church-going mom with zero criminal history do to end up with such a hardcore rap sheet?
She breastfed her child.
See, Erica suffers from a seizure disorder. It’s not something she’s lived with all her life; rather, it’s a condition that has developed fairly recently.
Erica, like many in America, is working class and struggling just to pay the monthly bills. She was without any health care coverage when these seizures came on. As poor folks are forced to do, she turned to the hospital emergency room to care for her most severe grand mal seizures—you know, the kind that can be fatal.
In desperation, Erica turned to cannabis for relief. She hadn’t been a pot smoker; cannabis culture was not a part of this Bible-study teacher’s world.
Erica’s trips to the hospital had gone without incident until one day, she ended up at a Johnson County hospital she had never been to. Following treatment for her latest grand mal seizure and still in a daze, hospital officials began peppering Erica with questions.
“Are you pregnant or considering pregnancy?” they asked, which Erica denied.
“Are you breastfeeding?” they asked, which Erica confirmed.
Erica finished up at the hospital and went home. About an hour later, officials from Texas’ Department of Child Protective Services (CPS) were knocking at her door. THC had been detected in Erica’s system by the hospital, and they alerted CPS to the fact that Erica was still breastfeeding her child.
CPS took Erica’s children. CPS alleged she had endangered her child’s well-being by passing along THC to her baby through her breast milk.
In order to get her children back, Erica and her husband were required to take a drug awareness class, then a parenting class, then a budgeting class, then participate in couples counseling—all at their expense.
She was required to pass urine screens and hair tests to prove she was no longer using cannabis for her seizure control. (Fortunately, a kind nurse at the hospital helped Erica find coupons for a pharmaceutical she now takes for her seizures that has made her fatigued, heavier, nauseous, dizzy and given her headaches.)
Erica was also required to undergo a mental exam to prove she was competent to care for her children. Erica’s children were interviewed extensively, with CPS leading them along on questions about inappropriate touching, followed by physical exams of the kids.
The entire ordeal cost Erica and her husband over half-a-year without their children. Never once during this time were police involved; no evidence of pot or paraphernalia was ever collected from Erica or her home, no evidence of abuse of the children was ever found.
This all occurred based on a hospital choosing to drug test a mother who’d come in because of a seizure, then calling CPS because she said she breastfeeds and they had found THC in her system, period.
CPS referred the case to the Johnson County judicial system, which brought Erica before a judge who explained how the court did not want to send her to jail. She got a lawyer who, for just $10,000, negotiated a deal to keep her out of prison. All she had to do was plead guilty to five counts of felony child endangerment.
Not one count for the alleged endangerment of the young child receiving THC through Erica’s breast milk. Five counts, one for each of her children, even the pre-teens, who were allegedly endangered by being borne of a mother who was breastfeeding THC to the youngest one of them.
Why would Johnson County apply such a draconian penalty to Erica?
Because during the time her children were taken from her, a judge had told Erica and her husband not to talk publicly about their case. Instead, they went very public about being persecuted for medical cannabis use, posting their travails on Facebook, starting a blog, speaking to the media and delivering public speeches at Texas cannabis rallies.
Now, Erica must serve five years of probation, work 130 hours of community service, pay a $250 fine with court fees, take another drug class, take another parenting class, take random drug tests (i.e., no cannabis medicine) and pay $88 per month to fund these requirements.
Of course, as a convicted felon in Texas, she is no longer allowed to possess a firearm for the rest of her life. She has also lost her right to vote during her probation (Texas does reinstate voting rights after completion of a sentence, however).
For the rest of her life, this mother of five can never run a licensed child care center, provide child-care services in her home or ever adopt or host foster kids; she cannot even be present at a licensed child-care center (i.e., drop off her kids at a day care).
All that for being a breastfeeding mom who smoked a little pot to deal with her seizures.