Don’t fear the reefer: Air Force changes pot policy

Those who admit to listening to a little too much Bob Marley may still have a chance to join the Air Force, after the service recently made some of its recruiting policy more lax.

Smoking the reefer before trying to join the Air Force is no longer considered a disqualifying criterion for service, stated a new policy released Jan. 9 by the service.

The new exception joins a more relaxed tattoo policy and medical accession standards for certain diseases.

“We are always looking at our policies, and when appropriate, adjusting them to ensure a broad scope of individuals are eligible to serve. These changes allow the Air Force to aggressively recruit talented and capable Americans who until now might not able been able to serve our country in uniform,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Cody in a Jan 10 press release.

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The new policy states an addiction or substance-related disorder still disqualifies someone from service. But using marijuana before service without any legal proceedings associated with the act no longer disqualifies someone from service.

The Air Force also ditched its 25 percent exposure rule for tattoos. The rule stated airmen could only have 25 percent of their exposed skin inked. Now airmen can have their whole bodies tattooed, except for the face, scalp, throat and hands. One exception is made for a singular ring tattoo on the hands.

“A recent review of Air Force field recruiters revealed almost half of contacts, applicants and recruits had tattoos. Of these, one of every five were found to have tattoos requiring review or that may be considered disqualifying; the top disqualifier was the 25 percent rule on ‘excessive’ tattoos,” the press release stated.

The tattoo policy will go into effect Feb. 1. The Air Force still will not accept tattoos that are obscene, are related to gangs or discriminatory.

The new policy opens waivers to new diseases as well. Those with mild eczema can now receive waivers to serve. Those with asthma will be tested for fitness for service and those with ADHD, who are not medicated and show “stability” my get waivers.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James hinted at the policy change during her final public speech last week.

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“We will be opening up the aperture on tattoos and certain medical conditions that will allow a wider pool of people to come into our Air Force in the future, but of course always, always, always taking into account and keeping extremely high, our standards in the Air Force,” James said.

The Air Force updates the policy every four or five years.

The service has been hinting at changes to appearance policy as a means to expand the Air Force talent pool, especially for airmen with cyber skills.

“If you think about warfare in the future and if you think about … this third offset strategy, which is this interface between man and machine. How much brawn does the military really need and how much intellect?” said Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso in October 2016. “Do I care what a cyber warrior weighs? Do I care that they run a mile and a half in 12 minutes, it gets to this idea: rather than think of the standard for the whole force do we think of individual standards? … [Tattoos] are in vogue so do I really care that somebody has a flower on their arm or on their back? These sleeve tattoos are very popular.”

As the Air Force widens its base of people to choose from, it’s also trying to make itself more appealing.

The service has a shortage of pilots and maintainers.

In August, the Air Force offered $35,000 retention bonuses to unmanned aircraft pilots to stay in the military.