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Hospitals Reporting More Colorado Babies Being Born THC-Positive

By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) - Colorado's legalization of recreational marijuana has led to an increase in the number of babies being born THC-positive.

One Pueblo hospital is reporting nearly half the babies tested in one month had marijuana in their system.

Vicky Houston, of Woodland Park, saw nothing wrong with using medical marijuana for her health while pregnant.

"I believe it's beneficial, I don't think it's toxic in any shape or form," she told CBS4's Rick Sallinger.

Vicky Houston is interviewed by CBS4's Rick Sallinger (credit: CBS)

She said she moved to Colorado from Texas to gain access to medical marijuana to treat a health issue. When her son Keanu was born she did not disclose to the hospital staff that she used cannabis. But he tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient of pot.

Vicky Houston's son Keanu (credit: CBS)

"Nurse upon nurse practitioner and doctor and social worker came into my room to exam him to see how he was deformed or how he was brain damaged," Houston said.

But she says multiple tests proved he was just fine.

Sallinger asked, "Are you convinced it's safe for would-be mothers to use marijuana?"

"Absolutely," Houston answered.

RELATED STORIES: Marijuana Legalization Story Archive

Research is lacking. Scientists don't want expectant mothers to use cannabis, so it's difficult to conduct a study.

Dr. Larry Wolk is the head of the state health department and a pediatrician. He says marijuana can affect the developing brain of a child.

Larry Wolk
CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Dr. Larry Wolk (credit: CBS)

"Many of the known impacts of marijuana are on learning and motivation and some of the things we don't see develop until a child is school age," he said. "It's not worth taking the risk. There might be some benefits, but it's not worth taking the risk."

The state and other agencies are now engaged in a campaign to educate women about the possible dangers of using pot during pregnancy and breast feeding.

At St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo the head of the neonatal unit, Dr. Steve Simerville, is reporting what is being called a dramatic increase in the number of newborns with marijuana in their system. The hospital is now among the health care organizations supporting an initiative to ban recreational pot sales in Pueblo.

Dannette Christensen, of Pueblo, was using marijuana when her children were born.

"Were your children tested for THC presence upon birth?" Sallinger asked.

"Upon birth, yes they were ... (the results) were positive," she replied.

Dannette Christensen
Dannette Christensen with her children (credit: CBS)

Christensen says Child Protective Services was called, but she was allowed to keep the children.

In the Houston's case, she was given an administrative citation, her case was later closed, bringing her great relief.

"I wondered with each car door that closed, 'Is this the day someone is coming to take my baby?'" Houston said.

What she feels is safe for her child is not the same opinion as the state.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is recommending expectant mothers visit

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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