Service members who admit to using cannabis after they leave the military would be permitted to reenlist under a provision of a $740.5 billion defense spending bill approved by the House Armed Services Committee last week. 

Current Department of Defense regulations dictate that service members who leave the military and decide to return are barred from reenlisting if they admit to using any form of cannabis while separated. The prohibition remains in effect even for former service members whose cannabis use occurred in a state that has legalized marijuana.

But under a provision added to a defense spending authorization bill by Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, service members wishing to return to the military could request a waiver on a case-by-case basis. The waiver, if granted by the Pentagon, would allow reenlistment for those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense or who admit to cannabis use up to the level of a misdemeanor offense while not on active duty.

“Smoking pot just once shouldn’t prevent a patriotic American from fighting for our country,” Gallego said in a release. “We need to finally exercise some common sense when it comes to our marijuana policies, and I’m glad my amendment will lead us in that direction.”

‘Common-Sense Reform’

Gallego has introduced the amendment, which he characterized as “a common-sense reform to modernize our military’s restrictions on minor marijuana use,” each year since 2018. He was spurred to draft the measure by the experience of a constituent who wanted to return to the Marine Corps when he had finished attending law school. After revealing he had used marijuana in a legal state, a recruiter told him he would have to lie in order to reenlist.

“There’s ample evidence that the social and personal consequences are far worse for alcohol use than for marijuana use—but we wouldn’t be able to assemble even one Marine Corps regiment if we excluded everyone who’s ever had a sip of beer or whiskey,” Gallego said when he introduced the amendment.

Gallego is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq. His amendment is the only cannabis-related measure in the House’s version of the defense appropriations bill, which is being called the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization bill, in honor of the ranking Republican and former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is retiring from Congress this year.

Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California is expected to offer an amendment that would require additional research on marijuana and cannabidiol to the Senate’s version of the defense authorization bill. For the amendments to succeed, they must be approved by both houses of Congress in a compromise version of the bill and signed into law by the president.

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