With medical and recreational marijuana on the rise throughout the nation, many have wondered how it will affect our large military population. After all, as a potential treatment for many debilitating conditions, medical marijuana could benefit veterans and service members.
Before diving in, it is important to reiterate that marijuana is still illegal on the federal level (medical or otherwise), and the military is generally a federal entity. Thus, any marijuana usage is still strictly prohibited by members of the military. However, the debate over whether or not that rule is fair is ongoing, and many are still discussing the possibility of legalization in the near future.
The shortest discussion of the military and marijuana is reserved for those who are active duty. The zero tolerance policy is still in effect for those currently serving, and branches regularly issue drug tests to ensure the rules are being followed.1 But there has been a recent push to change the status quo. In 2016, an active duty marine sought approval to begin treatment with marijuana for several brain injuries he suffered over the course of his seven-year career. The marine has already been prescribed an abundance of prescription pills for his injuries, but wants to pursue marijuana as a safer option.2 Unfortunately the military branches retain a zero tolerance policy for marijuana usage, with no differentiation between recreational and medical use. Service members can still be discharged, court-martialed or endure nonjudicial punishment over possession of marijuana or positive drug tests, but it will be interesting to see opinions and discussions shift over the next few years with marijuana gaining wider acceptance.
There is more of a gray area concerning veterans and their treatment after being discharged or retiring from the military. Marijuana is being explored as a safe, and welcomed treatment solution for many debilitating diseases or conditions, and may be a viable option for many veterans. And since veterans are no longer active, should marijuana still be precluded?
Many say no, and believe veterans should get the treatment they deserve, including access to medical marijuana. There are ongoing studies on whether marijuana is a treatment solution for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which unfortunately affects many retired or discharged service members. Recent polls also show the large majority of Americans, and a large majority of veterans, support medical marijuana. As a result of these studies, a legislative measure was put forth as recently as July of 2017 to allow veterans to use medical marijuana, and this bipartisan effort was the fourth consecutive attempt to pass the amendment.3
The issue gained even more traction when the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, David Shulkin, argued in favor of medical marijuana use, stating, “I believe everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and medical experts . . . If there is compelling evidence that is helpful, I hope the people look at this and come up with a right decision, and we will implement that. There may be some evidence this is beginning to be helpful.” 4Shulkin’s statement, released in May of 2017, showed openness from officials in considering alternative treatment options for our veterans.
Past Recreational Use for Applicants
Those who have applied to the military in recent years are familiar with the questions concerning drug use. Traditionally, any history of marijuana use was a disqualifier for many prospects, but there is a growing movement towards relaxing those standards.
The United States Air Force was the first to announce they would no longer be asking potential recruits about past marijuana use.5 It can be inferred that with the growing use of marijuana usage around the nation, disqualifying candidates on that basis would inhibit growth of the Air Force. Other branches appear to allow minor experimentation with marijuana, and take into consideration the amount used, the circumstances, the individual’s lifestyle, and other factors.
However, the Air Force did make clear that testing positive for marijuana after official accession into the branch would be grounds for discharge. Prior substance abuse, dependency, or other disorders may also be an issue. While the exact number of times is a little unclear, it appears that somewhere between the range of 15 to 25 times of marijuana use, or more, may be disqualifying depending on the branch.
Overall, there is still much progress to be made for all types of service members, whether active duty, retired, or prospective applicants. However, the dynamic discussions and debates over the topic show a glimmer of hope for the medical marijuana industry, and it will be a topic sure to be re-addressed in the years to come.