A study published in the journal Economic Inquiry analyzed the potential impacts of federal cannabis legalization on foster care admissions. The researchers found that cannabis reform led to a 10% decrease in foster care placements, and they predict additional drops in foster care admissions once national legalization happens. Additional benefits of cannabis law reform include less disruption for at-risk children, greater support systems created by keeping families together, and lower costs to taxpayers.
The key findings showed decreases in specific reasons for foster care entry. For example, foster care placement due to parental drug abuse decreased by 20-30%. Placement attributed to physical abuse decreased by 16-33% and "neglect" decreased by 16-31%. Entry due to "parental incarceration" also declined.
The researchers hypothesize several reasons for the overall decreased foster care entries. Many states have revised their foster care policies to be more consistent with current cannabis law. These updates potentially reduce incarceration, because previous cannabis prohibition laws dictated the removal of children from the home for certain cannabis possession charges.
Child welfare interventions can be expensive, and a single foster care placement averages roughly $25,000 for administrative and maintenance costs. The researchers projected a 10% reduction in placements would be approximately 27,000 fewer new children entering the foster-care system. In addition, federal cannabis legalization would potentially reduce the annual financial burden of the foster-care system by about $675 million.
Parents who use medical cannabis are at risk of losing custody in many states, but 12 states have passed laws that protect the rights of parents who are entitled to custody and visitation rights and medical cannabis patients. Unless cannabis use creates an unreasonable danger to the minor, parents using medical cannabis can maintain guardianship or visitation rights. Such laws promote greater household stability for children and families while allowing medical cannabis patients to meet their personal health needs.