Department of the Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Military.com in a statement Tuesday that the services are starting a two-year pilot program that would allow certain applicants that test positive for THC -- the main psychoactive component in marijuana -- to come back and try again.
"The pilot program offers some prospective applicants an opportunity to retest after 90 days if they are granted a waiver," Stefanek said in an emailed statement. "If those who have been granted a waiver pass a second test, candidates will be allowed to enlist."
The waiver program is available for recruits in the Air Force, Space Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.
Under previous Department of the Air Force policy, a positive THC screening at a Military Entrance Processing Station -- also called MEPS -- would have excluded a candidate from joining. But as the military faces its most difficult recruiting environment in decades, the services are workshopping a wide variety of options that would allow those previously disqualified to find a way into the ranks.
Only certain Air Force and Space Force applicants will be considered for a waiver, though.
Waivers will "be offered for applicants who possess a score of 50 or higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, do not have any Cat 1 or 2 (major) moral violations, possess a high school diploma (Tier 1, no alternate credentials), and are otherwise medically qualified for
Service," Stefanek said.
If they test negative for THC 90 days later and enlist, "they must adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and DAF policy which prohibit drug use," Stefanek added.
The military has zero tolerance for drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines, but recruits in many branches have received waivers for marijuana as it has grown in popularity and become legal for recreational use in a handful of states.
Marijuana use actually surpassed cigarette smoking in America, according to an August poll from Gallup. Sixteen percent of Americans say they currently smoke marijuana, whereas a new low of 11% of American adults reported being smokers.
"Americans' regular use of marijuana is modestly higher than cigarettes at this point, but the trend over recent decades in marijuana use is upward," the Gallup findings showed.
The vast majority of states have legalized marijuana for medical use, recreational use or both. Only 11 states have not allowed marijuana in any form: Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas, according to MJBizDaily, a trade publication that follows the industry.
Notably, more than 50% of all new recruits come from states where marijuana is now legal, at least for medicinal use, according to a 2021 study by Rand Corp., a think tank that researches issues facing the military.
While marijuana and other THC-related products may be legal in many states, they are still illegal at the federal level and, therefore, outlawed for service members.
The Department of the Air Force's policy is effective immediately, according to Stefanek, and the pilot program will be in effect for two years.
After reviewing how effective the policy is and reviewing data, Stefanek added there is a possibility "adopting this as a permanent change to DAF recruiting and accessions policy."
Stefanek said the Air Force’s experiment builds on similar programs the Army and Navy have used in the past.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.