Justice Denied: Edward Tobler—Carroll County, VA

“I did not become a father without taking careful consideration for my responsibility to do so,” says Edward Tobler, age 35, speaking of his two children, Lydiah, 8, and Leonidas, 6. But because of the cruel, and often unrealized consequences of Virginia cannabis laws, he has to fear losing this right, which he treasures. To Child Protective Services (CPS), using cannabis automatically means loss of custody.

Tobler struggles with depression and anxiety. He follows his doctor’s recommendation to take medications to manage his condition. However, he still finds it a challenging to be a connected and mindful parent under his doctor’s plan.

He needed meds to wake up and also other meds to sleep. His doctors would prescribe more pills to counteract the side effects of the original meds. Often these added meds made him feel sick, sometimes suicidal and sedated enough to  sleep 16 hours per day. It became difficult, as he was forced to make a choice between helping one set of symptoms, and stay awake and alert enough to care for his children, or go off these medications risking violations to the child custodial agreement with his former partner in 2016. Cannabis seemed to help him manage his health better. 

Making this choice weighed on his mind during the custody battles in court in 2016, 2017, and 2018 and complicated his hopes for maintaining a state of health. Tobler found periodic cannabis use to be helpful when his medications would create a roller coaster of undesirable side effects. Like many patients taking a cocktail of conventional medication, he felt as though his health was out of his control. Choosing cannabis would be breaking the law and he would be drug screened sadly costing him the right to be the father he strives to be. He stayed on his meds until sickness became the reason the medications needed to go in the summer of 2017. 

This time he treated his Bipolar Depression with cannabis for a longer more consistent period. Because of this, he realized cannabis may be a better option to treat his illness. He was alert and able to have the patience and energy needed to be the father he wanted to be. However, these ups and downs he experienced in the transition to overcoming these challenges affected his marriage.

Managing a health condition is not easy for anyone. Now add to this the stress of his family going through a divorce. Divorce is not easy for anyone either. The adults involved often find themselves resorting to the tactic of using private health challenges of the opposing party against them. 

Tobler’s former partner did just that on several different occasions during their active marriage and separation; once by enlisting the family’s church pastor in 2016. When she asked for help, the pastor filed a Protective Court Order (PCO) against Tobler, then he was simultaneously served a Temporary Detention Order filed by his ex further compounding his predicament causing him four months in jail.

This was his first ever violation, a misdemeanor no less. It resulted in Tobler’s arrest. The $50 bond was revoked, forcing indefinite jail time while waiting to vindicate himself. Four months in maximum security, 23-hour lockdown in solitary confinement forced Tobler’s acceptance of a plea deal allowing him four months time served if the following eight months of probation were kept clean.

To end the possibility of counter conflict, the pastor extended the PCO an extra two years.

“Being away from my children at that time shattered me,” he remembers. 

Over some time, Edward was able to prove to the court his commitment to continuing to be a responsible parent. A 50/50 custody agreement was made.

But, in the summer 2018, it was reported to CPS that Tobler treats Bipolar Depression with cannabis. He was visited by CPS and escorted by the Sheriff’s deputies upon testing positive for THC. The children were removed from the home immediately. He was told that custody 100% resides at the mother’s discretion. She reported it in order to spitefully gain custody of the children.

Ironically, the children’s mother subsequently overdosed on her own medications in an attempt to commit suicide. Prior to the suicide attempt and challenges of her own to deal, Tobler’s ex surrendered the children over to him and confirmed surrender with the CPS. He now has full custody.

“I cried when the judge awarded me sole custody,” said Tobler. 

“I am grateful I have the opportunity to really be present for my kids now,” he said. Cannabis allows a sense of peace in their home. They enjoy outdoor activities and are happy spending time together. “I feel I am more able to truly be involved in my children’s education and well being now that I have a better control of my health,” said Tobler.

He still lives in fear of losing his children at anytime for making the choice to treat his illness with cannabis. Patients need safe and regulated access to cannabis that gives full therapeutic treatment without the fear of uprooting their children’s lives.

Thanks to recent expansion of the Virginia Medical Cannabis Oil Program, Tobler has become a registered Virginia Cannabis Oil patient in hopes for further expansion of the program including protections during custodial conflicts like not automatic emergency separation of parents from their children.

Update: Tobler recently told us that his ex filed again for custody. We had gone through months of encouraging and helping him apply for his medical cannabis card in Virginia, even though dispensaries are not open yet. He finally did and showed his card to the cops when they showed up this time and all the drug reasons for the petition were dropped! He still has to fight for custody, but cannabis won’t be part of the case against him. 

Cruel Consequences: Portraits of Misguided Law is a portrait exhibit designed to educate communities and erode the stigma of cannabis criminalization. Portrait stories are available to community, advocacy, and industry events to promote awareness and provoke dialogue that encourages viewers to question assumptions and actively engage in undoing the damages of cannabis prohibition. Find them at cruelconsequences.org and on social media at @cruleconsequences.                             

Emerald contributor since June 2020


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