Elizabeth Hamill – September 28, 2022

In an effort to boost recruitment and keep up with the changing landscape of legal marijuana use, the United States Air Force and Space Force have both issued new “common sense” policies on marijuana screening for new recruits. Certain prospective enlistees who test positive for THC during their entrance physical will now be able to apply for a waiver that would allow them to retest after 90 days, provided they agree to abstain from cannabis use during their service. This policy will be in effect for a two-year trial period before being re-evaluated, at which point the Air and Space Forces will decide whether to make the change permanent.

Until now, any positive result in a THC test would permanently disqualify someone from service. Previously, the Air Force has even warned applicants to abstain from federally legal CBD products (which can contain trace amounts of THC) in order to pass entrance testing. The change brings the Air Force and Space Force, as well as their respective National Guards, in line with other branches of the US Military, which already allow prospective enlistments to apply to retest after a failed THC screening.

The change comes during what has been called a recruiting crisis, with multiple branches of the military struggling to meet recruitment goals. Congress has been pressuring all branches to increase their enlistment numbers, among what is said to be the worst time for military recruitment since the end of the Vietnam War.

With more than half of all US States allowing some form of legalized marijuana use, disqualifying users from service during such a dire time in military recruiting is seen by many as short-sighted. Research published last year by the RAND Corporation found that Army recruits with a history of marijuana use do not perform any worse than other recruits. In fact, the research found that, according to a RAND blog post published last October, “Recruits with a history of marijuana were just as likely as other recruits to complete their first term and make sergeant, and they were less likely to leave the Army for health or performance reasons.”

With most Americans approving of cannabis use for medical reasons and viewing moderate cannabis recreational use as morally equivalent to drinking alcohol (which of course, no branch of the military prohibits while off-duty), it may be time for the military to rethink their THC policies altogether. Given that most recruits will come from a state with some form of legal cannabis use, and a growing body of research to suggest that moderate use does not inhibit motivation or performance, it may be wise for the military to catch up with most of the country in viewing off-duty cannabis use similarly to off-duty drinking. In fact, given that one study found the military to be “America’s heaviest drinking profession,” shifting views on cannabis use could lead to altogether healthier armed forces.