An Oklahoma Army National Guard soldier pulls illegally grown marijuana plants out of their pots in Kay County, Okla., in September 2022.

An Oklahoma Army National Guard soldier pulls illegally grown marijuana plants out of their pots in Kay County, Okla., in September 2022. (Haden Tolbert/Oklahoma National Guard)

WASHINGTON — New recruits and incoming officers into the military would not have to undergo mandatory cannabis testing under the House’s version of an annual must-pass defense policy bill.

The draft of the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act bars the services from requiring an individual to submit to marijuana testing as a condition of enlisting or commissioning.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., attempted to add the provision as an amendment to last year’s authorization bill, which sets priorities for the Pentagon, but was unsuccessful. Its inclusion this year was “a collaborative effort,” he said Friday.

Supporters of the measure believe it will help the military attract recruits at a time when few young people want to or are eligible to serve.

“I do not believe that prior use of cannabis should exclude Americans from enlisting in the armed forces,” Gaetz said last year. “We should embrace them for stepping up to serve our country.”

The military has long maintained a zero-tolerance, marijuana-use policy but has revisited and loosened its rules in recent years as more states legalized the drug.

The Air Force and Space Force began a pilot program in 2022 that allows some recruits who test positive for THC — the main psychoactive component in marijuana — to retake the test after 90 days.

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps also give applicants second chances to take a cannabis test and the Navy announced in February that it will no longer send home recruits who test positive for marijuana upon their arrival at boot camp.

A 2021 Rand Corp. study of the Army’s marijuana waiver policies showed recruits who received waivers for testing positive for cannabis or admitting to past drug use “perform no worse” 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,” an essay accompanying the study said.

Recreational marijuana is now legal in 24 states – almost half the country – while medical marijuana use is legalized in another 14 states, according to the Pew Research Center.

The use and possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law but President Joe Biden’s administration moved Thursday to downgrade marijuana from the most dangerous and restrictive category of drugs.

“Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs,” Biden said.

The House Armed Services Committee is expected to meet next week to discuss the defense authorization legislation. The Senate Armed Services Committee has not yet released its version of the bill.

Twitter: @svetashko

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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