Cannabis and the Military

Responsible for the funding and oversight of the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces,The House Armed Services Committee has recently shown support for an upcoming marijuana provision. Included in the 2020 iteration of the Committee’s annual defense bill was a measure which would loosen regulations regarding marijuana use by former military personnel wishing to re-enlist.

Currently, due to federal regulations in combination with the military’s strict substance policies, former service members who plan on reenlisting cannot consume marijuana even in states where it is legal to do so. Admitting to doing so even once can result in one being barred from ever returning to the armed forces.

Congressman and former Marine Ruben Gallego (D - AZ), who has attempted to pass the measure in previous years, refuses to go along with the current status quo regarding marijuana. He has stated: "Smoking pot just once shouldn't prevent a patriotic American from fighting for our country...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."

The provision, which currently is awaiting approval from the Senate, would grant former military personnel affected by the current marijuana policy the option of returning if they “"truthfully attest to cannabis use while he or she was separated from the military”. Granted on a case-by-case basis, the Pentagon could administer waivers for those who either were convicted of a marijuana-related misdemeanor or admit use of the level of a misdemeanor while not active-duty.

Gallego has proposed the provision the past several years, getting as far as being included in the final version of the 2019 defense bill, but was ultimately dropped during reconciliation. Previously the Congressman has said that his motivation for the measure came from a constituent who had gone to law school and wished to re-enlist in the Marines, but was given the option to either lie about it or accept that his legal marijuana use would prevent him from returning.

The issue of marijuana-use among military members is one of great relevance to Mainers. The medical marijuana community in Maine is home to a great number of veterans in all facets of the industry. Not only are a significant number of caregiver-operated storefronts and delivery services either owned, operated, or supplied by veterans, but an even larger portion of medical marijuana providers show respect and support by offering discounts and accommodations to former servicemen and women.

While many show support for veterans, one Maine medical cannabis company elevates this concept to the next level. Located in Chelsea, Hive Medicinal is owned and operated by a husband-and-wife Army veteran team and specifically caters towards those who have served in the armed forces. With a dedication for providing clean medication for vets, and beyond offering a generous 20% discount , Hive tackles a major problem facing many Maine vets: reliable transportation. For those unable to travel to acquire their medication, Hive dispatches it’s own Humvee to transport them to and from the shop at no cost. Not only does utilizing a former military vehicle fit thematically, but many vets have found comfort and familiarity in the Humvees. Hive co-owner Bobby Russo explains how due to the vehicles being in service so long, many veterans of varying ages have experience with them: “For a lot of those guys, it’s like being back in that situation but without the stress or pressure ... It reminds them of their prior service in a good way.”

In addition, organisations such as the New England Veterans Alliance (NEVA) and the Maine Veterans for Medical Cannabis (MEVMC) are specifically designed to assist and accommodate those who have served in the armed services by connecting them with medical marijuana education and affordable, reliable access to cannabis. With the societal consensus finally depicting marijuana as being a safe, relatively healthy substance with a wide variety of benefits, especially those suffering mental or physical trauma related to their service, it is imperative that military policy matches what civilian society has deemed beneficial.

Taking into account the military’s long-standing attitude regarding “illicit substances”, as well as the relationship between anti-pot political figures and the armed forces, it is unlikely that full cannabis reform will be seen in the coming years. With that said, small but significant provisions such as that proposed by Congressman Gallego are instrumental in the deconstruction of current military regulations regarding cannabis in favor of guidelines that are realistic to today’s changing, more accepting society.


Maine Potcast Contributor

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