Air Force Loosens Marijuana Restrictions


At least one branch of the U.S. military is about to become a lot more cannabis-friendly.

In a policy memo issued Monday, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James wrote that going forward, prior marijuana use is “not disqualifying” for new recruits.

Previously, recruits entering the Air Force faced inconsistent questions and restrictions regarding prior marijuana consumption, depending on where they were enlisting.

“We didn’t ask the same questions. Some recruiters used if you smoked marijuana less than five times, sometimes it was less than 15 times,” Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, told “What we decided to do is stop asking [about]prior marijuana use at the recruiter level, [because]first of all, who really counts how many times they’ve used marijuana? So that just comes off the table.”

In a press release announcing the new policy, the Air Force said that its former approach to recruits’ marijuana use was “not reflective of the continuing legalization of marijuana in numerous states throughout the nation.”

Under the new policy, “drug dependency” and prior “legal proceedings” associated with marijuana use will continue to be potentially disqualifying, as will any cannabis consumption following a recruit’s initial entrance interview.

cannabis use by military recruits

The move comes a few months after U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made headlines by saying that the military should stop turning away so many potential recruits just because they’ve previously used drugs.

“It’s an important question and the answer is yes, we can be flexible in that regard, and we need to,” Carter said at the time.

The Pentagon chief was responding to a hypothetical question at a TechCrunch Disrupt event in September about whether someone who went to the Burning Man festival and sampled “goodies” should be eligible for a tech engineering job with the military.

“We are changing that in recognition of the fact that times change and generations change,” he said. “And by the way, laws change as respecting marijuana and so forth.”

“We need to, while protecting ourselves and doing the appropriate things to make sure that it’s safe to entrust information with people, we need to understand – and we do – the way people [and] lives have changed,” the secretary said. “Not hold against them things that they’ve done when they were younger.”

The new memo also loosens restrictions on recruits with asthma, ADHD an eczema, as well as those who have tattoos.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)


  1. I smoked a lot of weed when I was in the USAF back in the early 70’s. In fact, that’s where I got introduced to really good weed and hash. Aircraft went everywhere during the Vietnam War, and a lot of weed flew with them. The combination of Thai Stick and Afghan and Morrocon hash was awesome. It took me ten years after getting out of the USAF to get connected as well as I was while in the service.

    But getting caught was a very big deal and they worked hard to infiltrate narcs into groups they thought were toking. I hung out with the medics, where it wasn’t as aggressively persecuted for some reason. Never got caught despite doing some things that could have gotten me hard time in Levenworth. But I was damn good at my job, and it was a critical job, so they left me alone. It was the slackers who got caught.

    Glad to see the USAF is lightening up a touch, if only for prior use. Consumption while in service is still likely to end badly if discovered. But small steps are better than no steps.

  2. Lawrence Goodwin on

    Very interesting report, Tom. Thank you. The only acceptable course of action is for the U.S. Air Force to start treating cannabis consumption in the exact same manner as alcohol—all personnel must consume off duty. We’re talking here about the most basic freedoms these same troops enlist to defend! More importantly, the U.S. Air Force must be forced to stop poisoning our nation’s outdoor cannabis crops with blatantly obvious aerosol spraying operations. They are part of the Pentagon’s insane plan to “own the weather” by 2025. That’s only 8 years away, yet hardly any public officials even admit to this criminal ‘geoengineering’ of our skies.

    • Wtf do you mean humorous, Joseph? What is humorous about civil liberties and freedom from prohibition? What’s humorous about young men and women dying for our right to smoke or ingest cannabis when and if we want to….and those personnel providing us those liberties are banned from the same rights. That’s old school right wing horse-shit that fell flat on its face years ago
      Please explain your comment.

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