Once upon a time, your chances of being accepted by the United States military as someone who either uses, or used, weed in the past, were nil. The military was famous because of its Zero Tolerance policy towards drugs, but things are starting to change. In February 2018, for example, Mark Esper, the recently appointed Army Secretary, said that he was willing to waive applicants who used marijuana in the past but were otherwise qualified.
According to Esper, it is okay as long as the person is not a habitual user and that they smoked cannabis in a state where it is legalized. At present, he is unwilling to accept anyone who refuses to quit their weed habit.
This attitude is a LONG way from the age-old U.S. military view on the use of drugs or the abuse of alcohol. All applicants are screened concerning their use of drugs and alcohol, and you can expect to be asked the following questions as a minimum:
- Have you ever used drugs?
- Have you ever been charged/convicted of a drug offense or a drug tested offense?
- Have you ever been physically/psychologically dependent on any drug or alcohol?
- Have you ever sold, traded, or trafficked illegal drugs for profit?
Today, recruiters are becoming more lenient on applicants who answer ‘yes’ to the first two questions. If you admit to using weed more than 15 times or else you have used ‘hard drugs’, you will need a waiver to get into the military. Air Force recruits who have smoked weed between 15 and 25 times will receive a Drug Eligibility Determination, which is not quite the same as a waiver.
Additionally, all recruits undergo a urinalysis test during their initial processing and again when they report for basic training. Therefore, it is a terrible idea to smoke before joining the army! Remember, a urine test can detect weed use within the previous seven days if you’ve only used it once. If you are a habitual user, it is possible for cannabis to be detected anywhere from 30 to 100 days later!
Why is the Military Softening Its Stance on Past Weed Use?
While it is a LONG way from tolerance, it is interesting to learn that the U.S. Military is becoming less strict about weed use, but you can probably guess the reason: a lack of qualified recruits. Here is a very brief outline of the army’s current recruitment process:
- Step 1: Take the Armed Services Aptitude Battery test.
- Step 2: Complete a physical examination which involves a drug screening.
- Step 3: Meet a service enlistment counselor to discuss your career in the Armed Forces.
- Step 4: Take an oath.
Step 1 is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff to ensure the military is filled with nothing but strong, intelligent, and capable recruits. You can get through with a low test score, but such recruits are known as Category Four and that percentage is growing rapidly. Category Four recruits score 30 or less out of 99 on the test, and it is known that the Pentagon has set a limit of 4% on Category Four soldiers. Also, these individuals do not receive a waiver for past weed use.
Back in 2013, only 0.2% of recruits were Category Four but in 2017, the number skyrocketed to 1.9%. A combination of the ever-changing legal landscape of weed, and a need to recruit 80,000 soldiers during the fiscal year meant that the Army had to issue more waivers than ever before. And incredibly, this extended to weed use while in the army.
In fact, the number of waivers issued by the army for active duty soldiers in 2017 was 500, almost triple the 2016 figure of 191 waivers. Major General Jeff Snow, the leader of the Army’s recruiting command, said he is happy to issue waivers as long as these recruits understand that they are forbidden from using marijuana while on active duty, and pledge never to do it again. For reference, no waivers of this nature were issued in 2014.
Also, Snow readily acknowledges that the number of waivers issued will grow considerably as more states either legalize weed for medicinal or recreational use, or decriminalize possession of small amounts.
Avoiding Past Problems
Another reason to display a greater level of leniency is to avoid the previous problems with ill-discipline that plagued the military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At that time, the Army fast-tracked soldiers through the ranks to meet deployment demands. However, the desperation for new troops meant that an increased number of recruits with criminal records were brought in, and therefore an increased number of misconduct waivers were issued.
As a result, the Army was damaged by a rise in behavioral problems amongst soldiers. It seems as if the military finally understands that past weed use is nothing to be concerned about. Rather, it is certainly better to have smoked marijuana a handful of times than to have a history of domestic violence, for example!
What if I Have a Medical Marijuana Card?
At the time of writing, MMJ card holders are not exempt from the general prohibition against illegal substances, and HIPAA, which normally ensures your medical records are kept confidential, actually doesn’t protect you against a background check to determine if you were ever an MMJ cardholder. However, you could still receive a waiver as long as you don’t use weed while in the military.
If you live in a state where weed is legal for recreational use (or in a state where it is legal for medicinal use and you have an MMJ card) you could theoretically get high regularly while in the military and you’ll be fine. The problem is the Military Drug Test Program which tests up to 60,000 urine samples a month. All active members of the military have to undergo a urinalysis at least once a year, and you can be randomly tested at any time.
Also, your commander can request a search authorization if he/she believes a soldier is under the influence of drugs. You are judged to have failed the urinalysis if there are 50+ nanograms of THC per ml of urine at the Screening Level, and 15 nanograms per ml at the Confirmation Level.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana in the Military
The United States Military aims to recruit up to 180,000 people during the fiscal year in all of its combined forces. Up until a few years ago, you were disqualified from joining if you smoked weed even once, while recreational users had no chance. You could of course lie and say you have never smoked before, but if you had done so recently, the urinalysis would likely catch you out.
The bottom line is that today, there is a decreasing number of qualified recruits and the Military has been forced to move with the times. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in nine states (and D.C.), plus another 20 states for medicinal use. This means the number of people who have never smoked is falling rapidly. As a result, the U.S. Military has been forced to either pick recruits from a shallow pool of talent or face the following facts: Weed is here to stay, and smoking it now and then doesn’t make you a criminal nor does it impact your ability to serve with honor. However, you still can’t smoke while on active duty.