Late last Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee passed a $740.5 billion defense spending bill with a key provision that allows for leniency for troops who admit to smoking cannabis. According to a statement released by Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 will grant a one-time waiver, allowing those troops who have used marijuana to re-enlist in the armed services.
The military’s current policy bars anyone who admits to using cannabis from re-enlisting in the service. Under Gallego’s amendment, first-time offenses, including misdemeanor court convictions for cannabis use and admissions of use by non-active duty personnel, will be waived, allowing service members the opportunity to re-enlist.
“Once again, the Armed Services Committee came together to pass the National Defense Authorization Act in strong bipartisan fashion,” Gallego said in a statement. “I was pleased to see several of my provisions pass in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion or via unanimous votes – support for allies like Germany, the Baltic States, and NATO writ large; [and] a common-sense reform to modernize our military’s restrictions on minor marijuana use.”
Gallego has championed the provision for the past three years, since learning the story of a constituent who had trouble re-enlisting when a recruiter found out about their cannabis use. According to Gallego, the former Marine and law school graduate was told to lie about their cannabis use or forget about rejoining the military.
"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," said Gallego according to reports at the time.
The military has a strict no-use policy when it comes to both cannabis and its non-psychotropic cousin CBD. According to a recently published report in Military.com, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Matthew Donovan issued orders last February banning CBD despite the legalization of hemp and hemp products through the Farm Bill in 2018. According to Donovan, because some CBD products contain THC, there’s no way for the military to develop a list of approved products, hence the blanket ban.
“These legal changes and the resulting introduction of hemp products containing up to 0.3 percent THC in the marketplace create a serious risk to the viability of the military drug testing program for a number of reasons,” wrote Donovan. “I find that the use of hemp products could effectively undermine the Department's ability to identify illicit THC use,” he continued.
While Gallego’s amendment is the only one in the House that concerns cannabis, there are reports that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein plans to introduce one of her own in Congress’ upper body calling for more research into marijuana and CBD.
"Smoking pot just once shouldn't prevent a patriotic American from fighting for our country," Gallego said in a statement. "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."
Gallego’s amendment is not a done deal, however, as it still must make it through the reconciliation process before the bill reaches President Trump’s desk.