When Does Mandated Reporting Apply To Marijuana Use? - Blog

When Does Mandated Reporting Apply To Marijuana Use?

Published Date: 10/22/19

Marijuana is a complicated subject. Although not legalized on the federal level, as of late 2019, 11 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, and another 22 have legalized it for medical use.


But what happens when a parent drops off a child and the parent smells like marijuana? Or, what happens if the child does?

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As mandated reporters it’s extremely hard to know what the right thing to do in this situation is. Laws around marijuana use vary from state-to-state and it’s not always clear when the situation needs to be reported.

Child abuse and endangerment laws also vary from state-to-state and may include failing to meet the basic needs of a child, like food, shelter, clothing, medical treatment, and general supervision, to acts that result in imminent risk or serious harm to a child’s health and welfare, be it from something done intentionally, carelessly, or out of negligence.


In 2018 one daycare put parents on alert and warned parents to do a “smell check” before dropping children off. If children were dropped off smelling like pot, staff was instructed to call CPS.

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marijuana use warning from daycare provider

More recently, P.A.C.E Childcare Works in Massachusetts gave a similar “smell check” warning to parents, although they seemingly left it up to staff to determine if a parent was under the influence at drop-off or pick-up, letting parents know that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) would be notified if they were believe to be.

PACE massachusetts marijuana warning

With the growing popularity of edible forms of marijuana and the ability to vape weed, which leads to a less potent smell, it’s important that you implement a written policy, train your staff on what to look for and when they should report, and communicate that policy to family members.

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There are physical signs of marijuana use that staff can look for when they interact with parents. Those signs include:

    •    Bloodshot eyes
    •    Sleepiness or acting lethargic
    •    Lack of coordination
    •    Confusion and lack of focus
    •    Misjudging time
    •    Delayed reaction times
    •    Paranoia

Of course a parent displaying one or more of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean they are high. But, it’s important to both empower staff and support their decision to report if they feel a parent is under the influence in their presence.


If a parent is reported, they can expect the local child welfare agency to investigate. In states where marijuana is legal, it will be up to case worker to determine if a) there is marijuana use in the home, and b) if that marijuana use is inhibiting the parent’s ability to care for the child. If they determine that parenting is negatively affected because of marijuana, steps could be taken to remove the child from the home.

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Determining when to report suspected marijuana use can be extremely tricky. If you or your staff find a child in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, it should be immediately reported. If you notice a significant change in a parent’s behavior or the quality of care the child is receiving at home, there may be cause for concern and reporting as well.

You should also consult local licensing to get input regarding your responsibility to report legal marijuana use by parents to ensure you are upholding the law as mandated reporters.


We’ve put together the following template that you can use in your facility to inform parents of your policies regarding both recreational and medicinal marijuana use, and help you establish a policy that your staff can adhere to. Caregivers should be notified of your policy in writing, it should be added to your parent handbook, and that addendum distributed via email and hand-delivered to everyone.

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Effective Immediately

At {FACILITY NAME} we neither condemn nor condone the use of medicinal or recreation marijuana in your home.

By law, we are mandated reporters of any suspected abuse or neglect by caregivers. At times, this may include the use of marijuana, including if a caregiver is suspected of driving while under the influence.

If you or your child comes in smelling like marijuana, this may be cause for concern and may lead to staff reporting you to {LOCAL CHILD WELFARE AGENCY}.

Understand that we must follow the letter of the law regarding mandated reporting. Our license depends on it, as does the welfare of all the children we care for.

If you choose to use marijuana, do not drive your child to {DAYCARE, PRESCHOOL}. If you choose to use marijuana, ensure your child can in no way access it or any paraphernalia for their own safety. You will be reported to {LOCAL CHILD WELFARE AGENCY} if your child is found in possession of any drugs or drug paraphernalia on our premises, even if it is a legal substance.

We love our families and love caring for your children. We never want to be faced with reporting suspected abuse or neglect, but it is our job to keep all children safe.

We appreciate your full cooperation.

Thank you.

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