Air Force Defies Stereotypes, Enlists 42 Recruits With Past Marijuana Use

In just three months of Air Force and Space Force’s pilot programs that enable certain prospective applicants to join the services even though they tested positive for cannabis, the Air Force Recruiting Service granted waivers to 43 applicants, reported 

These numbers are much higher than Air Force recruiting officials thought it would be. They were expecting to see around 50 cases per year, based on the previous years. 

“As more states adopt more leniency toward cannabis and THC derivatives, we anticipate a continued increase," Chrissy Cuttita, Air Force Recruiting Service spokeswoman told the outlet. 

New Air Force And Space Force Pilot Programs Highlights 

  • With waivers, applicants have a chance to retest after 90 days of receiving it; 

  • To be considered for the waiver, applicants need to do well on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, have graduated from high school and not have any other potential barriers to joining the services (medical or legal); 

The military still does not tolerate other Schedule 1 substances, like heroin, ecstasy or methamphetamines. When it comes to marijuana, they were compelled to give it a second chance in view of the fact that the plant has become nearly mainstream. 

According to Beth J. Asch, a senior economist at the nonprofit Rand Corp. who has been examining cannabis waiver policies in the armed services, the legalization trend is having a profound impact on potential recruits. 

"What we're seeing is that the number of states that have legalized marijuana either for medicinal use or recreational use has been rising since about 2000-2001," Asch said. "Not surprisingly, as more states are doing this, the number of people who are coming from states or potentially coming from states with legalized marijuana has increased."

Army Recruits With Past Pot Use Render Same Performance As Peers

It is important to mention that a government-funded analysis of U.S. Army recruits from 2021, has shown that prior marijuana consumption had little effect on overall performance. A Rand Corp. study also revealed that recruits with a history of marijuana use are as likely as their peers to rise in the ranks of the Army.  

The report noted that recruits with documented histories of cannabis use were more likely to leave the Army over that issue and less likely to leave because of health or performance issues.

In terms of achieving a higher rank in the Army, past cannabis use seemed to have no impact as former consumers became sergeants or higher on as regular a basis as their non-cannabis consuming peers.

Exercising Common Sense

Before the pilot program, applicants who tested positive for THC were not allowed to join the services. Then, the Army realized that with more states legalizing marijuana, the number of THC-positive applicants began to rise and they needed to “be realistic today,” Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service said at the time. “We need to exercise common sense.”

According to the Rand study, more than 50% of all new recruits are from states where cannabis has been legalized at least for medical use.

Other U.S. military branches have taken similar steps. In 2021, the Navy undertook a pilot program for a period of two years, during which applicants who test positive for marijuana or THC at MEPS will be able to move on to boot camp after a three-month waiting period. The Marine Corps has a slightly different approach to THC-positive recruits, allowing them to return to MEPS after 45 days.

Photo: Courtesy of Brett Sayles on Unsplash

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