Legal Recreational Marijuana in Washington and Child Custody

In December of 2012, Washington became the first state in the United States to officially legalize the recreational use of marijuana (cannabis) on a statewide basis. As explained by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, adults over the age of 21 can purchase and possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana. That being said, cannabis remains prohibited at the federal level.

This raises an important question: Will legal recreational marijuana use have any impact on child custody in Washington? The answer is “it depends”—while marijuana use will not disqualify a parent from custody, this remains a gray area of the law. Here, our Spokane family lawyers explain the key things to know about recreational marijuana and child custody in Washington State.

Background: Washington Uses the Best Interests of the Child Standard

To start, it is important to understand how child custody and child visitation matters are resolved in  Washington. The state uses the best interests of the child standard (RCW 26.09.002). Put another way, Washington’s custody laws hold that disputes will be resolved by figuring out what arrangement is best for the child’s health, well-being, and social development. A court can review any factor deemed relevant to protecting the child’s best interests. 

Marijuana is Regulated (and Viewed) in a Similar Manner to Alcohol 

Child custody cases are handled under state law. In Washington, recreational marijauna is viewed in a similar manner to alcohol. An individual over the age of 21 has the right to purchase and possess alcohol for their personal use. That a parent responsibly enjoys an alcoholic beverage on occasion will not be used as a factor against them in a child custody case. The key word being “responsibly.”

Alcohol use could be a factor in a Washington child custody dispute. A parent who uses alcohol in an irresponsible manner—alcohol addiction, drunk driving, shirking of responsibilities, etc—could lose out on certain custody rights as a result. It is useful to view mariuana in a similar manner. A parent’s irresponsible use of (legal) recreational mariuana could be used against them. 

The Federal Prohibition Could Create Some Additional Complications

There is a complicating factor that makes recreational marijuana different from alcohol. As of 2022, marijuana use is still barred under federal law—despite being allowed in many states. For this reason, marijuana and child custody still remains a bit of a gray area in Washington. Still, the general rule is that a parent will not be punished by a family law court for responsible recreational marijuana use. Irresponsible use is another matter. 

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Spokane, WA Child Custody Lawyer

At Hodgson Law Office, our Spokane child custody lawyers provide the compassionate, caring advice that you can rely on. If you have any specific questions about legal recreational marijuana and child custody, we are here to help. Get in touch with us by phone or send us a direct message to arrange a fully private initial consultation. We represent parents throughout all of Eastern Washington, including in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Mead, Airway Heights, and Town and Country.