Adult-use marijuana legalization laws are correlated with a reduction in foster care placements, according to data published in the journal Economic Inquiry.

A pair of economists with the University of Mississippi assessed foster care admission trends in states pre and post-legalization. 

Authors reported: “Legalization may impact foster-care admissions directly by changing the welfare of children or indirectly by changing policies and attitudes towards marijuana use in the home. Direct effects may arise because marijuana use itself causes behaviors that affect child welfare, or because it changes the likelihood of using other drugs.”

They added, “We also find that placements due to physical abuse, parental neglect, and parental incarceration decrease after legalization, providing evidence that legalization reduces substantive threats to child welfare, although the precise mechanism behind these effects is unclear.”

Authors concluded: “We estimate that legalization decreases foster-care placements by at least 10 percent, with larger effects in years after legalization, and for admissions for reasons of parental drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and parental incarceration. Our findings imply that legalization may have important consequences for child welfare, and that substitution toward marijuana from other substances can be an important part of how legalization affects admissions.”

Full text of the study, “Recreational marijuana legalization and admissions to the foster care system,” appears in Economic Inquiry.

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