AUGUSTA, Maine -- The Maine National Guard is a "force multiplier" in the war against illegal street drugs, while the loosening of marijuana use rules in Maine is causing recruitment concerns, the head of the state's military forces told the state Legislature on Tuesday.
"Our service members were proud to contribute to the seizure of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, pharmaceuticals, vehicles, weapons and cash," Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham, adjutant general for the Maine National Guard and commissioner of the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, said before a joint session of the House and Senate. "But most importantly, they know they are a force multiplier in law enforcement efforts to reduce the tremendous harm that heroin and other drugs are causing in every corner of the state."
Farnham said 10 Guard members are part of the Maine National Guard Counterdrug Task Force and do work to support drug related law enforcement agencies, such as the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area office and the Maine Information Analysis Center.
"We provided direct support for 160 cases by conducting background investigations, database inquiries, mobile device forensics and producing intelligence products," said Farnham, a Brewer native who is a pilot and former commander of the Air National Guard's 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor.
While some guardsmen and women fight the war on illegal drugs, recruiters also worry that the legalization of marijuana in Maine will hurt enlistment efforts, he said later in the speech.
"As I told you last year, 70 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for military service due to education, police records, drug use, physical standards or obesity," Farnham said. "Kids are making poor choices that negatively affect their opportunities in life. Now we've legalized marijuana, just to further complicate those issues. I think it will make it more complicated."
While recreational marijuana use in Maine was just legalized by citizen-initiated referendum, its use remains illegal under federal law.
Anyone who uses marijuana and enlists, for example, is barred from jobs with certain security clearances, Farnham said.
Drug use is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so all enrollees are tested for drugs as part of their physical when they sign up and when they go to basic training. Those who test positive for marijuana or cocaine may still enlist, if they get a waiver from their recruiter and If they pass a second test within a year. Those who test positive for other drugs are automatically disqualified after the first test.
Maine has around 3,200 Guard members -- 1,150 in the Air National Guard and just over 2,000 in the Army National Guard, Farnham said.
The Army National Guard was forced to cut more than 100 positions last year as part of the National Guard Bureau's decision to decrease Guard membership nationally from 350,000 to 335,000. But Farnham said he believes the numbers will increase in the future.
"Our optimism that the Army has seen the low point seems to be the case," he told legislators. "Forecasts for the next couple fiscal years anticipate increases in the size of the Army. Changes in size for the Maine Army National Guard will depend of recruiting and force structure changes."
Maine and other states may soon have new rules regarding marijuana use. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in the fall that he would review rules for fitness standards, marijuana use, tattoo regulations and the military's longtime reluctance to allow single parents to start military careers to see if changes need to be made to increase recruitment efforts, according to a Military Times story.
Recruitment numbers have steadily dropped over the years, but saw "the first uptick in a couple of years" in 2016 after a bill was passed to provide tuition waivers for Guard members who are in good standing with their units, Farnham said.
"During the fall semester, 143 Guard members took advantage of the program," he said.