What do you need to know about joining the military from a cannabis-friendly state? With more states relaxing the rules for both medical and recreational marijuana sales, cultivation, and use, cannabis is an important factor to consider when exploring your options to join the military.
What does it mean to enlist from a marijuana-friendly state and what do potential recruits need to know?
Federal Law Versus Local Law
The first and most important thing to remember is that all drugs that are prohibited on the federal level are also prohibited within the ranks of the U.S. military. Regardless of branch of service, all drugs on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulated by the “schedule” (see below) are considered controlled substances.
The DEA maintains a schedule of controlled substances broken down into five categories with Schedule One being described as substances with “…a high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence.”
There is disagreement in the medical community about whether or not cannabis has a “high potential” for dependence, and many argue that the DEA’s position on marijuana is outdated and relies on junk science.
Regardless of the difference of opinion, marijuana and marijuana derivatives remain classified as Schedule I drugs at the time of this writing.
The DEA official site says of the scheduling system, “As the drug schedule changes– Schedule II, Schedule III, etc., so does the abuse potential– Schedule V drugs represents the least potential for abuse.”
There are many who feel that cannabis shouldn’t be on the DEA schedule at all, and there are those who feel it should be on this list but completely revised as to its actual potential for dependence.
Cannabis And Recruiting
Illegal use of controlled substances is grounds for being disqualified for military service. However, military recruiting efforts commonly involve the use of waivers, and in the area of cannabis these waivers have become more commonplace in the last ten years.
At one time, use of any controlled substance prior to enlistment could be considered a barrier to military service.
But U.S. military recruiting philosophies have changed as society has evolved into a more marijuana-tolerant environment. What was typically a major issue for military recruiters (past use of controlled substances, repeated use of marijuana that cannot be considered “experimentation”, etc.) is becoming more of an issue that is placed at the recruiter’s discretion.
But at the end of the day, if you want to enlist it is best to completely avoid all controlled substances including cannabis.
Each Branch Of Service Sets Different Standards
Some military recruiting efforts are more zero-tolerance than others. In 2021, the Air Force Recruiting official site advised potential recruits, “In most cases, substance abuse is disqualifying. However, pre-service marijuana use without exposure to legal proceedings is in itself not disqualifying.” The key in such cases is to be honest with the recruiter and ask about the potential for a waiver.
This “honesty policy” generally applies to all situations where you may have a “non-standard” issue in your background. Lying to the recruiter is always a bad idea.
But compare the Air Force’s stance on substances in 2021 with other military recruiting policies and the first thing you’ll learn is that it can be tough to find specific guidance.
This may be because there is a sliding scale of drug-related issues for recruits. Experimentation (ten times or fewer in some cases, depending on branch of service and other variables) is not viewed as harshly as chronic use or distribution of cannabis.
The less serious your involvement with pot, the easier time you might have seeking a waiver for using it. But there are some aspects of cannabis that can definitely be a major barrier to entry for uniformed service.
Marijuana And Drug-Related Arrests
Legal entanglements make getting a military job far more difficult than simple drug experimentation with pot.
If you have been arrested for marijuana possession or worse, your recruiter will have a tough time justifying the approval of your application. There may or may not be a waiver available for certain offenses but in general you should view any potential entanglement with law enforcement as an issue that seriously hurts your chances.
Why do we say this? Consider what the U.S. Army Recruiting official site said on its official site in 2021 about “offenses or moral behavior-related issues” the Army cannot issue a waiver for. Those issues include the following:
- Individuals under civil restraint including parole, confinement, or probation are not eligible for waivers
- Individuals subject to civil court conviction or adverse disposition for more than one serious offense, or serious offenses with three or more other offenses (apart from traffic) will not be eligible for a waiver
- Anyone found trafficking, selling, or distributing narcotics, including marijuana, is not eligible for a waiver
Anyone arrested for or convicted of selling controlled substances is not likely to be approved to become a recruit as an enlisted member or as a commissioned officer. Legal issues are serious roadblocks to military duty — any involvement you have in them jeopardizes your ability to join the military.
When Talking To A Recruiter
The first and best thing to do when speaking to a recruiter from any branch of the military? Be as up front and honest as possible. Don’t conceal legal problems–the recruiter will learn of any contact you have had with law enforcement. Don’t conceal experimental use of cannabis, but do expect to be questioned about it at length.
It’s crucial to remember that a recruiter has a network of sources that may be checked when you apply to join. That includes local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as your personal references, etc.
It is safest to assume any information that is in your records–those not sealed by a court of law–will be known to the recruiter at some point. Maybe not immediately, but over time the details will come out. Assume your personal details are well-known and proceed accordingly.
When applying for a waiver, you will be pressed for information regarding (where applicable) past use of cannabis including how many times and whether or not you were “experimenting.” Remember that distribution of controlled substances is typically a disqualification. Any involvement you have had in the distribution of cannabis will be a major issue at the recruiting office.
After Joining The Military
Those who have used marijuana before enlisting or commissioning should know that the military has a zero tolerance policy for using pot while serving. This includes cannabis use in pot-legal states. You will not be allowed to use cannabis in any form while serving as a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, etc.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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