Air Force Marijuana Pilot Program More Popular Than Expected
In 2022, the Air Force issued a press release announcing a “THC retest pilot program,” which allows applicants a second chance if they test positive for marijuana use as part of their inprocessing through a Military Entrance Processing Station or MEPS.
When the program was first implemented, the Air Force wasn’t facing a recruiting shortage (it came up short in 2023) and no one anticipated how popular the drug waiver option might become.
Military.com reports that only 50 cases were initially expected when the waiver program rolled out. But in the first year of the pilot program, three times that number of future airmen applied. At press time, the pilot program gives recruits a second chance to pass a drug test if they “pop positive” during testing at MEPS..
Air Force Substance Abuse Policy
The DoD has a zero-tolerance substance abuse policy when it comes to federally controlled drugs. Test positive for any off-limits substance and you may be barred from initial enlistment or reenlisting.
Before the pilot program, if you showed up to MEPS and tested positive for marijuana, you would be denied enlistment with no recourse or appeal possible.
This is due to federal policy, which requires military members to be drug-free even when certain substances, including cannabis, are legal to buy and sell in certain states.
Marijuana, synthetic marijuana, synthetic ecstasy, and federally controlled substances are off-limits to military members. Overseas, the same is true of codeine-laden cough syrups sold legally in some marketplaces; servicemembers are forbidden from using them even though buying these products overseas is legal.
What the Pilot Program Allows
The Air Force pilot isn’t the first of its kind, with the Army and Navy both trying versions of the waiver prior to this attempt. Under the Air Force plan, new recruits may be allowed to retest after 90 days following the positive drug test at MEPS.
What to know:
- The waiver is not automatic; the recruit must apply.
- Waivers are granted only if the applicant has “good” scores on the ASVAB and does not have other issues that could further complicate enlistment.
- The marijuana waiver applies specifically to those entering military service for the first time and test positive for cannabis use during MEPS inprocessing.
Under the pilot program, those who test positive in the MEPS environment are offered a second chance to test. This is not done for those currently serving who test positive as part of random urinalysis testing.
Military Recruiting and Marijuana
The Air Force recruiting issue is not the first time the Defense Department has flirted with overlooking some marijuana use when trying to sign up new recruits.
A study focusing on Army troops found, “Recruits who make it into the U.S. Army despite low-level histories of marijuana use perform no worse, overall than other soldiers,” according to Military.com.
Then there’s a 2021 Pentagon study indicating, according to Military.com, that “77% of young Americans would not qualify for military service without a waiver due to being overweight, using drugs, or having mental and physical health problems.”
At least half of today’s recruits are thought to come from states where cannabis use is legal in some form. As more states legalize or decriminalize marijuana use, the military may be forced to adjust its standards as times change and a former cultural taboo becomes commonplace.
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About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.