The stoner dude who refuses to put down the pipe and pick up the Pampers is an archetype that Judd Apatow has made an entire career out of mining. Internet forums and advice columns teem with queries from spouses who feel widowed by their partner’s relationship with weed.
So the announcement that Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt – and a report by TMZ that Jolie was “fed up” with Pitt’s marijuana and alcohol use – has set off a bevy of speculation that Pitt never fully left behind his 1993 role as a stoner room-mate in True Romance.
Pitt has spoken openly about using marijuana recreationally in the 1990s, telling the Hollywood Reporter: “I was smoking way too much dope; I was sitting on the couch and just turning into a doughnut; and I really got irritated with myself.”
But in a 2009 interview with Bill Maher, Pitt said that he had given up marijuana: “I’m a dad now. You want to be alert.”
Allegations of marijuana abuse have no direct bearing on a divorce filing, according to attorney Daniel Beck, who specializes in California medical marijuana law.
That’s because California law allows for “no-fault” divorces, meaning a spouse does not have to sue his or her partner for any specific grievance, such as adultery or abandonment.
“What I take away from this so-called allegation has more to do with public relations than it does anything else,” Beck added.
However, marijuana use can be a factor in custody decisions, and Jolie is reportedly seeking physical custody of the couple’s six children.
“Marijuana, like any other substance, can be abused,” Beck said. “The question is, what is the effect on the children? Even if someone has a medicinal [marijuana] card, if they imbibe with the children in the room, that could be looked at as something that is not in the children’s best interest.”
Medical marijuana is legal in California with a prescription. In November, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. The drug has been legalized in Colorado, Washington and Oregon in recent years, though the federal government still considers it illegal.
Though the legal and social stigma of marijuana use is declining, studies have shown that it can have a negative impact on marriage.
Researchers Kazuo Yamaguchi and Denise B Kandel have found that marijuana use tends to decrease once individuals get married, and that smoking pot while married “greatly increases the rate of becoming divorced”.
Anecdotally, a mismatch in marijuana use is often cited as a reason for conflict in relationships.
Alyssa, a 26-year-old woman who asked not to be identified by her last name, said that she ended a two-and-a-half-year relationship in part due to her boyfriend’s “incessant” marijuana use.
“What bothered me most was this feeling that he couldn’t be with me without being high, which sucked,” she said. “And I like weed but don’t need it.”
Jane, a 31-year-old woman who also asked not to be identified by her real name, said that her partner’s marijuana use became a source of conflict in her relationship when the couple and their two children moved to the Netherlands, where it was legal and easily accessible.
I felt estranged. Is the person before [he smokes] not to be taken seriously, or the one he becomes after?
“I felt estranged,” she said of her partner’s shifts in mood after he had used marijuana. “Is the person before [he smokes] not to be taken seriously, or the one he becomes after?”
Diana Richmond, a family law attorney with 40 years of experience in California, said that substance abuse was a very common reason for divorce but that marijuana was rarely the sole cause. Much more frequently cited are “alcohol, various prescription drugs, and cocaine”, she said, with occasional instances where “marijuana is used in conjunction with other things”.
Since the legalization of medical marijuana in California, however, the drug has become a frequent topic in custody battles, said Monica Mazzei Potter, a family law attorney with Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco.
But, she added, marijuana – whether used medicinally or recreationally – is treated more like alcohol by family law judges than like other drugs, such as cocaine.
“I don’t think it’s seen in the same category for family law judges,” she said. “Even if [parents] don’t have a license for it, I’m not seeing it as an impediment for custody issues.”
Parents who use marijuana might lose custody of their children if the case involves abuse and neglect, she said, but added: “I’ve never seen a case where there’s a parent using marijuana responsibly, there’s no abuse or neglect, and a parent has lost custody.”