Child Custody & Recreational Marijuana Use in California

In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults aged 21 or older. Since then, many people have taken advantage of this freedom by buying and consuming various types of cannabis products.

Although using marijuana in California is legal for most adults, it doesn’t come without its risks or consequences, especially when federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance. If an adult also happens to be a parent, there are also important considerations for how a child may be affected by their parent’s marijuana use.

Can Marijuana Use Impact a Child Custody Case?

Because California’s recreational marijuana laws – collectively known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act – are so new, there hasn’t been very much information out there about how legalization changes life as we’ve known it. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of grey area that could get colored in over the years as legal questions are resolved by the state judiciary.

As a part of this, there’s not a whole lot of information about how recreational marijuana use will be considered in a child custody case. An obvious parallel to consider is how the court treats parents who consume alcohol, which also alters a user’s state of mind.

The courts don’t remove or deny a parent custody simply because they drink alcohol, but they might if their drinking becomes a problem. If a child isn’t provided a safe and hygienic living environment because their parent is an alcoholic, a judge may evaluate the situation and choose to reduce or remove that parent’s custody rights.

Absent of any precedent specific to recreational marijuana use, it’s probably not inaccurate to assume the courts will evaluate a parent’s consumption in a similar way: If a child is being abused, neglected, or is otherwise in danger because of their parent’s recreational marijuana use, then it may certainly play a role in custody decisions.

Marijuana Use Disorder

Unlike other drugs – and even alcohol – marijuana doesn’t create substance dependence. The user’s body doesn’t need marijuana to function, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be addicted to it.

According to the CDC, a relatively small percentage of marijuana users can exhibit an addiction to marijuana as a condition known as Marijuana Use Disorder. This means the user can’t stop consuming cannabis despite the drug causing negative consequences in their lives and a desire to stop using it.

If a parent is alleged to be suffering from Marijuana Use Disorder or have an otherwise unhealthy relationship with recreational cannabis, they could face adverse consequences in a child dependency case.

What to Do If You Use Recreational Marijuana

If you are a parent who uses recreational marijuana, the simplest solution to alleviate your concerns is to stop using it. However, many people use cannabis for the same reasons others consume alcohol, and both substances can be consumed responsibly.

If you continue to use cannabis, exercise some common sense:

  • Never allow your children to consume recreational cannabis products or anything not prescribed by their doctor.
  • Keep edible cannabis products that look like sweets hidden and inaccessible to children.
  • Don’t leave paraphernalia like pipes, bongs, grinders, vape pens, or dabs laying around.
  • Avoid or limit your children’s exposure to your marijuana use.


All things considered, it’s likely that the courts will evaluate a parent’s recreational marijuana use with the same barometer used to assess alcohol use. If your marijuana consumption has adversely affected your children’s lives in any way, you can expect this to come up during your custody dispute.