Pubdate: Sat, 02 Dec 2017
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Worcester Telegram & Gazette


As more states lessen or eliminate marijuana penalties, the Army is
granting hundreds of waivers to enlist people who used the drug in
their youth - as long as they realize they can't do so again in the

The number of waivers granted by the active-duty Army for marijuana
use jumped to more than 500 this year from 191 in 2016. Three years
ago, no such waivers were granted. The big increase is just one way
officials are dealing with orders to expand the Army's size.

"Provided they understand that they cannot do that when they serve in
the military, I will waive that all day long," said Maj. Gen. Jeff
Snow, head of the Army's recruiting command.

The marijuana use exclusions represent about one-quarter of the total
misconduct waivers the Army granted in the budget year that ended
Sept. 30. They accounted for much of the 50 percent increase overall
in recruits who needed a waiver for some type of misconduct.

Snow said the figures probably will rise further as more states
legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

Eight states - Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington - and the District of Columbia
have fully legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for
adults' recreational use. An additional 13 states have decriminalized
it, meaning possession of small amounts is considered the equivalent
of a traffic citation or a low-end misdemeanor with no chance of jail.
Twenty-nine states, along with Puerto Rico, Guam and Washington, D.C.,
allow the use of medical marijuana.

Army leaders have faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid
worries in Congress and elsewhere about a decline in quality among new

Army data show more than 8,000 recruits received waivers in 2017,
compared with about 6,700 last year. Most waivers concerned physical
or mental health.

Almost 2 percent of the recruits were considered "category four,"
meaning they scored 31 or less, out of 99, on the aptitude test. Just
over a half-percent were in that category in 2016.

In total, the Army enlisted almost 69,000 recruits this year, close to
6,000 more than last year.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Snow said he went to his
Army leadership early this year to ask if he could bring in more of
the category four recruits to meet higher enlistment goals. He said he
promised that the Army would stay well below a 4 percent limit on the
group allowed by the Pentagon.

Recruits who score lower than 31 on the test must meet specific
criteria for the job they are requesting. There is no leeway on
previous pot smoking for them. They also can't require a health or
conduct waiver.

The Army's top officer, Gen. Mark Milley, told reporters during a
recent briefing that the service is not reducing standards.

The increases in the category four enlistees, however, are fueling
concerns the Army could repeat mistakes made during the peak of the
Iraq and Afghanistan wars more than a decade ago, when it hurriedly
added soldiers to the ranks to meet deployment needs. At the time, the
Army brought more recruits in with criminal records and misconduct
waivers. As the years passed, discipline problems and other behavioral
issues increased as well.

Milley and Snow insist that won't happen again.

"Quality matters more than quantity. If you make the numbers, great,
awesome. But do not break the standards," Milley said. "Standards have
to be upheld, period. So if we come in at less than the ideal number,
but we've maintained the standards, that's success."

The Army's argument, however, can be a bit misleading. The military
services routinely enlist fewer recruits with waivers or lower scores
than allowed under Defense Department guidelines. So while the Army
increased the number of former drug users or recruits with lower
scores than in previous years, the service still stayed below the
maximum levels authorized by the Pentagon. And those recruits must get
through boot camp, thus meeting minimum standards for joining the military.

Officials can thus argue they haven't lowered the standards even if
they have arguably enlisted more candidates of lower quality.

Snow acknowledged the challenge in meeting the growing enlistment
goals. In the current fiscal year, the Army must recruit 80,000 new
men and women.

"This mission is going to be a significant challenge for the command,"
said Snow, who wants fewer than 2 percent of the new recruits to be
category four. "The possibility does exist that the numbers of
marijuana waivers and category fours could increase. I hope not, but
it's too early to tell right now."
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