Over the past decade, the United States military has made significant advances in modernizing the standards for enlistments and commissions. As the House Armed Services Committee continues to review areas that can be improved and better aligned with today’s reality, cannabis has caught their attention.
U.S. Representative (D-AZ) and former Marine Ruben Gallego, who has been vying for cannabis reform within the military community for the past two years, has finally succeeded in getting the House Armed Services Committee to listen.
Gallego’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the military services to grant one-time reenlistment waivers to former troops who have admitted to using cannabis in the past, which would be revolutionary in the military community.
This issue has become increasingly present within the military as the states continue to align on cannabis legalization. The majority of the U.S. has some sort of medical cannabis program in place, yet the military has remained stringent on the issue. Current troops who have admitted to any form of cannabis use are barred from reenlisting, and the military has been very vocal with their employees about their disdain toward marijuana use and overall legalization -- until now.
Gallego believes a zero-tolerance policy on cannabis, especially with the growing number of legal states, is unrealistic.
“There’s ample evidence that the social and personal consequences are far worse for alcohol use than for marijuana use – but we wouldn’t be able to assemble even one Marine Corps regiment if we excluded everyone who’s ever had a sip of beer or whiskey,” Gallego said in a 2018 press release.
In 2018, Gallego presented an amendment that would allow troops who have a history of cannabis use to reenlist without penalty. While the proposition received bipartisan support, it was ultimately not accepted by the House Armed Services Committee.
Gallego pitched it again in 2019 with no success. However, his latest proposal will hopefully allow a little leeway.
"Smoking pot just once shouldn't prevent a patriotic American from fighting for our country," Gallego said. "We need to finally exercise some common sense when it comes to our marijuana policies, and I'm glad my amendment will lead us in that direction."
The House Armed Services Committee approved the new defense policy bill on July 2, 2020, which contained Gallego’s provision. This is the first time a cannabis-related item has been present within military policy. Assuming the bill is approved, the waivers will be applied on a case-by-case basis.
Before the amendment can officially become policy within the National Defense Authorization Act, it must survive debate and gain support from the full House before the Senate is able to make the change to the current policy.