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Marijuana Possession Arrests Are No Longer Disqualifying for Military Service

There is good news if you desire to serve in the military, but you have a previous arrest for marijuana possession.  The United States Army is issuing an increasing number of enlistment waivers to those who have smoked pot and also want to serve their country.  These waivers allow previously disqualified applicants to now enter the Army.

The increase in waivers reflects the Army’s difficulty in achieving its ever-increasing recruiting goals.  In 2016 the Army enlisted approximately 63,000 recruits.  That number increased to approximately 69,000 last year.  The Army’s goal in 2018 is to enlist 80,000 recruits.  The need for new soldiers comes as Congress has reversed trends begun in the Obama administration to downsize the military.

And, the number of waivers granted for marijuana users, while relatively small, nonetheless is increasing rapidly as well.  In 2016, there were 191 waivers granted.  That number increased substantially, to more than 500, last year.  While small compared against the total number of recruits enlisted, the increasing number of waivers granted is especially significant considering that just three years ago, no such waivers were granted.  This substantial increase is one way officials are attempting to comply with directives to expand the Army’s size. 

“Provided they understand that they cannot do that when they serve in the military, I will waive that all day long,” said Major General Jeff Snow, head of the Army’s recruiting command.  Previously, a two-star officer like Snow had to grant the waiver. Now, he said, that authority has been delegated to the level of a lieutenant colonel. The change was made for fiscal year 2017.  “The big thing we’re looking for is a pattern of misconduct where they’re going to have a problem with authority,” Snow said. “Smoking marijuana in an isolated incident as a teenager is not a pattern of misconduct.”

The marijuana use waivers account for about 25 percent of the total misconduct waivers granted by the Army in the 2017 budget year.  Those exclusions accounted for much of the 50 percent increase overall in recruits needing a waiver for some type of misconduct.  Snow said these figures will likely rise further as more states legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

Currently, eight states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington – and the District of Columbia have fully legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by adults.  An additional 13 states have decriminalized it, meaning possession of small amounts is considered the equivalent of a traffic citation or low-level misdemeanor with no jail time. Twenty-nine states, including Florida, along with Puerto Rico, Guam and Washington, D.C., allow the use of medical marijuana. As some of the states and territories currently permitting medical use of marijuana expand their permitted uses of marijuana, the number of the Army’s misconduct waivers for marijuana possession offenses should correspondingly rise.

The increase in marijuana-related misconduct waivers is presently limited to just the Army, and is not applicable to the Navy, Marines or Air Force.  Further, the misconduct waivers are limited to relatively minor marijuana possession offenses.  Therefore, generally those arrested for either possession of large amounts of marijuana, or the manufacture, distribution or sales of marijuana would not be eligible for a waiver, nor would those arrested for possession of other controlled substances.

If you or a loved one desiring to enter military service has been arrested for possession of marijuana in Duval, Clay, Nassau, Baker, Bradford, Putnam or St. Johns Counties, it is important to contact a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney knowledgeable about military misconduct waivers.  Doing so will ensure the best chances of you being able to achieve your goal of entering and serving in the United States military.