Newly appointed Army Secretary Mark Esper has been on the job just over three months, and on Thursday, he faced the press for the first time at the Pentagon. The 21-year Army veteran and former top lobbyist for Raytheon has been on a world tour meeting our nation’s troops, and his first comments to the press are already making waves.
Aside from deflecting questions about President Trump’s proposed military parade and transgender ban, Esper briefly touched on the military branch’s stance on accepting new soldiers that have used marijuana in the past.
“If a young kid comes in and says, ‘I’m a habitual user and I have no intent on giving it up because it is my God-given right,’ then sorry, you go somewhere else,” Esper explained. “But if [an applicant]comes in and says, ‘I’m in a state that has legalized marijuana and I tried it once when I was 15 at a party and it’s not for me and I have no intent on doing it and oh, by the way, I’m a 3.2 GPA and I’m on the basketball team.’ I’ll take you, I’ll give you a waiver and I’ll take you.”
Esper’s take on cannabis is not far off from former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who in January of last year released a memo detailing similar guidance on marijuana use for recruiters as her term wound down. James instituted new recruitment policies because the current method of questioning was “not reflective of the continuing legalization of marijuana in numerous states throughout the nation.”
For the nation’s existing troops, however, these changes in attitude toward marijuana have little impact when service men and women are discharged. The Department of Veterans Affairs has continually resisted forward movement in examining medical marijuana as a therapeutic option for veterans returning home from service, despite having the latitude to do so.
When Rep. Tim Walz from Minnesota questioned Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on why the VA refuses to research or utilize medical marijuana as an alternative to harmful prescription painkillers, Shulkin replied, “VA is committed to research and developing effective ways to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions. However, federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects.