Army Recruits Who’ve Used Marijuana ‘No Riskier’ Than Others

Army Recruits Marijuana
A military-funded report reveals that Army recruits with a history of marijuana use perform just as well as their counterparts who have never used the substance. The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation, found that these recruits are no more likely to leave the Army for health or performance reasons. The report suggests that the Army should continue to screen recruits with a history of marijuana use, but should be less concerned if they have no misconduct offenses. This study could have significant implications for recruitment policies, as a third of American 18-year-olds report having used marijuana in the past year.
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Those who oppose medical marijuana have often claimed that, despite its therapeutic value (which – thanks to overwhelming, peer-reviewed research – is now near impossible to dispute), cannabis causes psychological impairment that makes responsible use in the ‘real world’ impossible.

And yet, just as with earlier arguments, innovative new studies are turning the tide. This time, supporting evidence comes from none other than the United States military itself.

Today, CannaMD takes a look at an exciting new report that claims Army recruits with past marijuana use measure up just as well as (if not better than!) other recruits who have never tried cannabis before.

Florida Military & Medical Marijuana

As Florida’s leading network of medical marijuana doctors, CannaMD works extensively with military Veterans. While medical cannabis is still prohibited for use by active duty Service-members, the following statistics provide a quick snapshot of Florida’s military focus – and the number of residents who could be helped if medical cannabis was made available to all:

To learn more about Veterans and the VA’s position on medical marijuana, see: 5 Things Veterans Deserve to Know About Medical Marijuana.

For now, let’s return to active duty Service-members – and what a new, military-funded study has to say about past marijuana use and recruit performance.

How Does Past Marijuana Use Impact Army Recruits?

In a formal report sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army and conducted by the RAND Corporation (a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization), analysts found:

Recruits who make it into the U.S. Army despite low-level histories of marijuana use perform no worse, overall, than other soldiers. That should be welcome news in recruiting offices nationwide. More than half of all new recruits come from states where marijuana is now legal, at least for medicinal use.

Note: Marijuana use is still a disqualifying offense for new recruits. However, those looking to join can still ask for a waiver, just as they would for any other medical history issue like diabetes or insomnia.

In over 200 pages of findings, the report – titled, “An Empirical Assessment of the U.S. Army’s Enlistment Waiver Policies: An Examination in Light of Emerging Societal Trends in Behavioral Health and the Legalization of Marijuana” – highlights a number of points downplaying the dangers of past cannabis use:

Contrary to expectations, waivered recruits and recruits with a documented history of marijuana or behavioral health conditions are not uniformly riskier across all dimensions. In some cases, they are historically more likely to perform better.

And:

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.

In one of its most important conclusions, the study notes:

The legalization of marijuana has not resulted in worse recruit outcomes, and there is no strong evidence that changes in marijuana legislation have substantially changed recruit outcomes.

Marijuana & The Future of Military Recruitment

In its summary of findings, RAND recommends:

[The Army should] distinguish between recruits with only a documented history of marijuana and those who also have misconduct offenses. The adverse effects of having a documented history of marijuana can be less acute if recruits do not also have misconduct offenses (such as the sale of marijuana). The implication is that the Army should continue to carefully screen recruits with a documented history of marijuana but should be less concerned with these recruits if they have no misconduct offenses.

In a broader context, the federally funded report suggests a revised framing of the way policymakers and the press view waivers.

As Michael Hansen, the associate director for RAND, explains:

When people hear ‘waivers,’ they sometimes think the Army is letting people in who really shouldn’t be there. The strongest message of our report is that using waivers has nothing to do with changing quality standards.

This is a particularly important point, as RAND notes:

Without waivers, a failed drug test for marijuana would block the one-third of American 18-year-olds who say they have used marijuana at least once in the past year.

Updated: February 1, 2024

Jessica Walters

Jessica Walters serves as CannaMD's Chief Medical Researcher. Prior to her time at CannaMD, Jessica earned her degree from Harvard where she focused on neuropsychology. Her personal research interests include psychosocial interventions for obesity, depression, and generalized anxiety disorders.

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