A recent study by the RAND Corporation found “no evidence” that U.S. Army recruits with a past history of cannabis use “were riskier across the board” than any other recruits. The researchers analyzed thousands of soldiers who enlisted in the Army despite past cannabis use and other disqualifying marks on their records, such as depression or anxiety disorders.
Cannabis remains a disqualifying offense for potential Army recruits, but would-be soldiers can request a waiver, just like recruits with some medical conditions.
“Contrary to expectations, waivered recruits and recruits with a documented history of marijuana or behavioral health conditions are not uniformly riskier across all dimensions. In some cases, they are historically more likely to perform better.” — An Empirical Assessment of the U.S. Army’s Enlistment Waiver Policies,” Rand Corporation, 2021
The researchers found that “results that most closely conform to expectations are in cases of recidivism, in which accessions with a specific characteristic are more likely to have negative outcomes associated with that characteristic.”
“For example,” the authors note, “if a recruit fails to complete the first term, recruits with a documented history of marijuana and recruits with a drug and alcohol waiver are more likely than other recruits to separate because of drug abuse.”
For the study, Rand Researchers looked at data from every recruit who joined the regular Army between 2001 and 2012. They analyzed which of those recruits needed waivers and were able to search the data for specific references to cannabis or behavioral health problems; they then pulled personnel records to see how those recruits performed through their first term in the Army.
The study found that about 15% of Army recruits needed some kind of waiver to get in, most often for health reasons and fewer than 1% had a history of cannabis use or possession, depression, anxiety, or ADHD.
“As a group, those recruits were not across-the-board riskier than any other recruits,” the researchers said. “By one key measure, reenlistment, they performed almost exactly the same.”
The study did find that recruits who enlisted with a misdemeanor cannabis-related criminal charge were “somewhat more likely” to leave the service on a drug charge. Although, the researchers found that recruits with a cannabis history “were just as likely as other recruits to complete their first term and make sergeant, and they were less likely to leave the Army for health or performance reasons.”
The RAND Arroyo Center is the Army’s sole federally funded research and development center for studies and analysis.
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