Can I Join the Military if I Had a Medical Card?

woman in military uniform sitting outside a door

Table of contents

  1. Joining the Military with a Medical Card
  2. Exceptions
  3. What Happens If You’re Caught Using Cannabis in the Military?
  4. The Bottom Line

Possessing a medical marijuana card could disqualify you from joining the United States military.

All branches of the U.S. military have strict drug testing requirements, so having any cannabis in your system could disqualify you from enlisting. However, prior medical cardholder status could also prevent you from joining the military.

Learn more about how federal law factors into cannabis and the military and how using cannabis with a medical card isn’t permissible in most cases.

Joining the Military with a Medical Card

Federal law always supersedes state law, so you can’t technically join the military if you’re on illegal drugs. Cannabis is one such illegal drug, classified as a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level. So, even if you have a valid medical marijuana card in your home state, federal law will not permit you to join any military branch if you are actively using cannabis.

This stipulation applies to every branch of the U.S. military:

  • U.S. Air Force (USAF)
  • U.S. Army (USA)
  • U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
  • U.S. Marine Corps (USMC)
  • U.S. Navy (USN)
  • U.S. Space Force (USSF)

The United States military has stringent drug testing requirements for people who wish to enlist. In addition to mandatory urine tests before enlisting, active service members will be subject to random drug testing, which screens for cocaine, amphetamines, and marijuana use (or marijuana’s metabolites). Even if you are not chosen for a random drug test, you will be drug tested once per year as an active service member of the United States military.

So, if you are a current medical cardholder and still use cannabis, you will not be able to join the military. In a nutshell, if you want to enlist in any branch of the United States military, you will need to cease medical cannabis use and successfully pass any and all drug screenings while in service.

Download Our Guide To Your Cannabis Rights

Exceptions

In some cases, there may be exceptions for people who previously held medical marijuana cards and would like to serve in the military. These exceptions usually come in special waivers and are increasingly common as states relax cannabis laws.

Waivers

Whereas issues as minor as flat feet were once automatic disqualifiers from military service, recruiters are now seeing the benefit of enlisting a greater diversity of people, some of whom may have previously dealt with medical issues. Recruiters may use waivers to get people enlisted even with prior drug use. For example, if you were previously diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or any number of other qualifying conditions, you may request a waiver for your prior medical cannabis use.

Although waivers are increasingly common, they are not easily approved, and the process may take months. But for those approved for a waiver, becoming active duty military is a real possibility that would have been impossible in an earlier era.

What Happens If You’re Caught Using Cannabis in the Military?

Being caught using medicinal or recreational marijuana in the military generally results in administrative and court-martial proceedings. Unless you can prove that your drug screening resulted in a false positive, there is a good chance that you will be dishonorably discharged from the military.

Under Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, additional penalties for being caught with marijuana while serving in the military include forfeiture of pay and up to five years in prison. Service members found guilty of the intent to distribute, grow, import, or export marijuana may face up to 15 years of confinement.

The Bottom Line

Using cannabis in the United States military is a serious criminal offense punishable by prison time. Furthermore, service members who use marijuana in any branch of the U.S. military will be dishonorably discharged without pay. However, if you held a medical marijuana card before enlisting, you may be eligible for a waiver for previous cannabis use.

Reach out to the healthcare team at Leafwell and apply for a medical marijuana card online today. We’re here to walk you through the step-by-step application process in our virtual clinic.

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