Missouri Foster Parents Can Now Legally Possess, Grow Cannabis in Their Homes

Foster parents should be treated like regular parents.
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Foster parents in Missouri can now legally possess and grow cannabis in their homes. This news results from an emergency rule the state Department of Social Services filed last week.

However, of course, there are guidelines. Foster parents must store their cannabis in a manner “so as to be inaccessible to the children,” the rule says. And don’t think of lighting up around kids; consuming cannabis in a method that releases smoke or vapor is still prohibited inside the house, so duck outside to light your joint. 

These caveats aren’t unheard of. Rather, they follow similar guidelines for how one must store prescribed medication, alcohol, and matches. If a foster parent chooses to grow, the law states they must do so “in an enclosed, locked facility” as defined by law.

Thanks to the passage of this new law, foster parents can now legally participate in cannabis, just like everyone else. Back in November of 2022, Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative, Amendment 3, to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and older. Amendment 3 allows purchasing and possessing up to three ounces of cannabis. After registering, one can legally grow up to six mature plants for personal use. However, the newly passed legislation barred foster parents of about 14,000 children from participating.  

Missouri adopted the changes to the law, which addresses “physical and environmental standards” for foster care on an emergency basis as the current guidelines clash with the approved constitutional amendment, according to a statement attached to the rule’s text. 

“Rule 13 CSR 35-60.040 presently provides that foster parents shall not use or possess marijuana or marijuana-infused products,” it reads. “A regulation that conflicts with the Missouri Constitution is invalid.”

Following emergency rule guidelines, the change expires on February 23, 2024. 

Based on what Caitlin Whaley, Social Services spokesperson, shared with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the changes are meant to protect the foster children.

“This is to protect the foster child from the hazards of second-hand smoke,” Whaley said. “Foster parents may smoke marijuana and tobacco outside the premises but not in a vehicle while transporting a foster child and not in the presence of a foster child.”

Last year, researchers at the University of Mississippi published a study that suggests cannabis legalization leads to at least a 10% drop in foster care admissions. “Our most conservative estimates imply that legalization causes at least a 10 percent decrease in total admissions to foster care, with larger effects in years further after legalization and for admissions into foster care due to specific child-welfare concerns,” the authors of the research concluded.

But if cannabis were legal federally; as a result, there would be hundreds of millions of dollars in estimated cost savings for foster care systems yearly. 

The authors analyzed data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System from 2000-2017 and other sources. Their findings showed that while there were unremarkable differences between states pre-cannabis legalization, foster care placements gradually decreased in states that enacted the reform. “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,” they wrote. “Direct effects may arise because marijuana use itself causes behaviors that affect child welfare, or because it changes the likelihood of using other drugs,” Marijuana Moment reports. 

The study, published in the journal Economic Inquiry, additionally examined what those declines would mean regarding economic impact. Additional previous research suggests that a single foster care placement costs an average of $25,000. The latest study found that legalizing cannabis on a national level would “reduce the financial burden of the foster-care system by about $675 million, annually.”

“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,” the authors conclude.

State Auditor Republican Scott Fitzpatrick began an investigation into Missouri’s cannabis program to probe into whether regulators are operating “in a manner that is efficient, accountable and transparent,” whining that cannabis provisions “now make up more than one-fifth of the language in our state constitution,” the Missouri Independent reports. This is the latest foray into the inside of a heavily criticized program, which draws scrutiny from both state lawmakers and federal law enforcement, in addition to simply trying to stay on top of the level, speed, and growth of the changing laws. 

Fitzpatrick told the Missouri Independent that the audit is because cannabis is set to be a $1 billion industry in Missouri. He adds that the amendments that legalized it “represent some of the most substantial changes we’ve seen to our state constitution in recent memory.” 

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