By Buddy Blouin

There are a lot of things that can get you high, but tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the most popular options in the United States. You’ve probably never heard of the psychoactive compound THC. But, it's highly likely you've heard of marijuana, weed, and other miscellaneous slang terms for getting high after eating a gummy or smoking a joint. It’s a lot more acceptable these days, but the U.S. Air Force (USAF) still bans its usage. This can be a problem for its recruitment efforts, and the Air Force THC policy does allow for failed tests to be retaken. So far, the Air Force THC waiver has been needed much more than the branch anticipated.

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What Is the Cutoff for THC in the Air Force?

The Air Force THC limit of 15 ng/mL is enough to fail you during a drug test. This falls in line with the mandatory standards set in place by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). It’s worth noting, however, that lower amounts of THC are enough to show up on tests and fail prospective Airmen.

Urinalysis is the preferred method, and even with advancements in technology, there are still errors and wiggle room. This is especially true when compared to other methods. However, the DoD is cost-conscious when it comes to such things, and this is the best way to get the job done for less.

Let’s be clear here, testing positive for THC in the Air Force can end your military career at any time. With that being said, if you’re transitioning from civilian life into the military, you’re likely going to be provided more of a lifeline. Such is the case with THC waivers that the USAF is using to provide a second chance.

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The USAF Is Shocked at Weed Usage in Recruits

It was supposed to be 50 per year. That’s how many Air Force THC waivers the branch thought it was going to need. However, 165 were issued by the Air Force Recruiting Service to those retested after failing the first round.

The pilot program that began in September 2023 almost hit its year projection levels by December 2023 when there were already 43. This trend would follow as would the continued shift of a more positive outlook on the use of marijuana, despite it still being a Schedule I drug in the eyes of the Federal government.

These changing sentiments are in part why the Air Force THC waiver program got started. Both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy have already implemented similar practices for the same reason the USAF took on the new method.

Recruitment is tough enough for the U.S. military as a whole. One of the repeating themes across the entirety of the American Armed Forces is that recruitment goals aren’t being met. Specifically, Generation Z isn’t interested in serving. As for smoking weed…well that’s an entirely different story.

However, this isn’t just a Gen Z trend, nor necessarily anything out of the ordinary. As times change, the U.S. military has to evolve with them in the way it markets the benefits of joining up into a voluntary warfighting force. The program is looking to be one of many solutions.

Now, not everyone can get an Air Force THC waiver opportunity. To qualify for the second chance program, anyone applying to the USAF or U.S. Space Force (USSF) must have a high school diploma, no other barriers to joining, and a good score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

Air Force THC Policy Can’t Change Until Federal Law Does

Recruitment is down, but standards are standards. The USAF remains firm on its ban on THC. This means that while the aircraft are getting high, Airmen are not. In many ways this makes sense, yet there are some hypocritical parallels that are far from new.

Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco are all different, yet they have addictive properties. Such substance usage is generally much more acceptable in American society even as many states change their tune. So, why won’t the Air Force?

Well, marijuana remains illegal at the Federal level, and while that’s not the only reason, you can expect THC banned until it changes. The DoD must adhere to Federal rules, regardless of what 23 states and Washington D.C. have changed on an individual level.

Practically speaking, whatever your views on the use of marijuana, we can all agree that operating a military-grade aircraft while high isn’t a good idea. Nor is it good for any other role while serving.

Nevertheless, while the future of the Air Force THC will likely never allow its use while serving, some regulations may be relaxed. Only time will tell. For now, abstaining from usage remains the best route for all current and prospective Airmen.

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