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Legalizing Marijuana Reduces Need For Foster Care

  • The War on Drugs and Schedule I categorization of marijuana has had a disastrous effect on America’s children.
  • When parents are incarcerated on drug charges, children often end up in foster care and suffer from neglect and abuse.
  • Marijuana offers an alternative to hard drugs and alcohol which cost the U.S. billions of dollars each year.
  • A new study shows that legalizing marijuana reduces incarceration rates as well as alcohol and drug abuse and decreases the need for foster care. 

Detractors of cannabis legalization often point to the supposed detrimental affects that legal marijuana would have on children. However, what we’re actually seeing out of states where marijuana has been legalized are some surprising benefits for the nation’s children. 

A recent study published in the journal Economic Inquiry has presented data that suggests the legalization of cannabis and easy access to medical marijuana dispensaries could actually decrease the need for foster care placements in the United States.

Authors of the study had this to say:

“We estimate the effects of legalized recreational marijuana on entry into the foster-care system. Exploiting state-level variation in legalization and its timing, we estimate that legalization decreases foster-care placements by at least 10%, 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.”

The War on Drugs has failed America’s children

It is estimated that the War on Drugs resulted in nearly 100,000 children needlessly ending up in foster care. The war also cost America billions of dollars for law enforcement and incarceration. 

The Drug Policy Alliance has estimated that the United States spends more than $50 billion annually — more than $1 trillion total so far — enforcing recreational drug laws. That’s money that might otherwise have been spent on helping families and making neighborhoods across the country safer. 

The list of Schedule I drugs, the supposed enemies in the war, include marijuana alongside much more dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy. 

A Schedule I rating means the drug has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Considering more than two-thirds of U.S. states have done the research and now offer medical marijuana cards to their residents, the classification is clearly unjustified.

Furthermore, alcohol is not only legal but is also glorified by the U.S. media —  especially in sports and entertainment. Unlike marijuana, alcohol is highly addictive, poses grave health concerns, and is responsible for nearly 40% of the violent crimes in the country, including domestic abuse and child abuse. 

According to a 2017 report, more than one in ten U.S. children ages 17 and younger (7.5 million) live with a parent suffering from alcohol use disorder. Moreover, nearly 100,000 Americans die each year in alcohol-related incidents. In fact, alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. This also contributes to the number of children who end up in foster care.

According to the NIH:

“Between 2011 and 2015, the leading causes of alcohol-attributable deaths due to chronic conditions in the United States were alcohol-associated liver disease, heart disease and stroke, unspecified liver cirrhosis, upper aerodigestive tract cancers, liver cancer, supraventricular cardiac dysrhythmia, AUD, breast cancer, and hypertension.”

Interestingly, not only does cannabis legalization reduce liquor sales, it is also used to treat patients suffering from the medical conditions caused by alcohol. 

The NIH also reports that alcohol misuse cost the United States nearly a quarter of a billion dollars In 2010. As with the costs associated with the War on Drugs, much of this money could have been spent elsewhere if cannabis was federally legal. 

Meanwhile, several studies have shown that cannabis is a far safer alternative to alcohol and other Schedule I drugs. 

What lawmakers are saying about the MORE act

Fos­ter care refers to tem­po­rary liv­ing sit­u­a­tions for children who are orphaned or whose par­ents can­not take care of them. Chil­dren often enter fos­ter care because their fam­i­lies are in cri­sis. The absence of stability that comes with fam­i­ly is ultimately responsible for some of the great­est hard­ships that children face today.

While in fos­ter care, chil­dren may live with rel­a­tives, fos­ter fam­i­lies, or in group homes. Almost half of the children who enter the fos­ter care sys­tem will eventually go home to their parent or to a primary caretaker. However, while under foster care, these chil­dren often expe­ri­enced unsafe con­di­tions, abuse, and neglect.

The report in Economic Inquiry opens eyes to the fact that if cannabis were legalized, like alcohol, many parents incarcerated on cannabis charges would be home taking care of their children instead of being held in prisons across the country. 

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. In June 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report declaring: 

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”

Several legislative initiatives are under way in the U.S. congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I and put regulatory decisions in the hands of the states where it belongs.

On April 1st, the House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE)  Act, HR 3617. In addition to the measure removing marijuana from Schedule I, the bill also includes several social initiatives aimed at repairing some of the damage done to American families by the war on drugs. 

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by the President, a portion of tax revenue from cannabis sales will be used to provide a variety of services for individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs including job training, reentry services, legal aid for civil and criminal cases (including for expungement of cannabis convictions), and much more.

This represents a big step toward ending cannabis prohibition. However, the bill’s fate now lies with the Senate. Ultimately, according to the study by Economic Inquiry, if the Senate passes the MORE act, fewer children in America will be pulled apart from their families and put under foster care.

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