A worker sets up products , on Dec. 29, 2022, during the opening of the first legal cannabis dispensary in New York City.

A worker sets up products , on Dec. 29, 2022, during the opening of the first legal cannabis dispensary in New York City. KENA BETANCUR / AFP via Getty Images

Proposed marijuana waivers acknowledge blunt recruiting truths

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to remove a barrier to joining the U.S. military.

As the military services struggle to meet recruiting goals, lawmakers in the divided House seem united on a proposed fix: relaxing the Pentagon’s policies on marijuana use.

“I do not believe we should be testing for cannabis [in] people who want to join the military,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told the House Rules Committee during a hearing on Tuesday. “We should be thinking about cannabis more in terms of alcohol.”

Gaetz testified in support of his amendment that would ban drug testing for marijuana as a condition of enlistment or to become a commissioned officer. 

“We are having a recruiting crisis,” he said, noting that many “people use cannabis under the color of state law.” So far, 23 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

The Florida lawmaker stressed that his amendment wouldn’t preclude DOD from prohibiting marijuana use for individuals actively serving in the military, but that cannabis testing is “an unnecessary gate” for recruitment. In 2021, Gaetz sought to overturn U.S. election results.

The House Rules Committee, which is responsible for managing which legislation the House votes on, took up more than 1,500 amendments submitted for inclusion in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act after the House Armed Services Committee submitted its version of the bill in June

It’s unclear whether the amendments will become law, but they reveal a clear trend: as states legalize recreational marijuana use, lawmakers are pushing the military and Defense Department writ large to make exceptions. 

Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., championed an amendment with fellow Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer, of Oregon, that would ban the use of authorized defense funds to deny a security clearance just because the applicant used marijuana legally in their home state. 

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., submitted directive language that would instruct the Pentagon “to create an expediated waiver process for military recruits and applicants who have previously legally used marijuana or have a documented history of marijuana usage without misconduct offenses by reducing the waiver authority to the lowest level, such as a recruiting station commander.”

Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern, expressed support of Gaetz’s proposed cannabis testing amendment, saying: “You don’t have to agree on everything to agree on something.” 

In the same breath, McGovern, D-Mass., touted another bipartisan proposal the two lawmakers are sponsoring to ban the military transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine. 

“Cluster munitions are totally indiscriminate. They don’t distinguish between a Russian soldier, a Ukrainian soldier, a woman, a child, or other civilians. They, oftentimes, the unexploded ordnances remain for long periods of time…and there are real reasons why these weapons are banned in over 100 countries.”

McGovern said that—unlike Gaetz—he supports U.S. aid to Ukraine, but he believes transferring the clustered munitions approved by the White House would mean “the U.S. will have joined Russia and Syria as rogue nations that are using these banned weapons.”