As Pot Law Changes, DoD Officials Stand Pat

Colorado National Guardsmen help move an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 marijuana plants from two remote areas near Rye, Colo., on Aug. 15, 2012. Cheresa D. Theiral/Colo. Air National Guard

WASHINGTON — After legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, Washington state on Monday began issuing licenses to sell it, with a first round of pot store openings expected Tuesday.

But it's a pastime that stops at the gates of military installations, and officials are warning troops and Department of Defense civilians alike that indulging, on or off base, in a drug that's still outlawed by the federal government can result in serious consequences.

For servicemembers, that could range from a general discharge for a positive drug test all the way up to dishonorable discharge and jail time for possession.

"Drug abuse is incompatible with military service," the staff judge advocate for the 62nd Airlift Wing reminded troops at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in a recent article on the base newspaper.

DOD civilians face potential job loss and federal prosecution for possession. Dependents aren't under the same rules for use off-post, but possession or use on a military installation is still illegal.

Colorado's legal recreational marijuana trade began Jan. 1. A Fort Carson official speaking on condition of anonymity said that since the law was changed, there has been no discernible effect on drug arrests or prosecutions on post, adding that those who wanted to smoke pot could easily get it in Colorado prior to legalization.

Colorado state coffers look to be benefiting from the change; estimates vary, but the Denver Post reported that current predictions are for $30.6 million in pot taxes for the fiscal year that began July 1. Washington state voters are hoping for a similar boost.

But Department of Defense personnel won't be allowed to add to that revenue, according to a Facebook post in recent weeks from Joint Base Lewis-McChord officials.

"The short version: Despite changes to Wash. state laws, marijuana possession and use remains illegal under federal law," the Facebook post said. "Military family members and visitors to the base should be aware that despite the state laws, possession/sale/use of marijuana *on JBLM property* will be prosecuted in accordance with the federal laws that remain in effect.

"Additionally: Marijuana use by service members is prohibited under the UCMJ, regardless of where they are located (on- or off- base).

"Finally, use of marijuana by federal employees is prohibited as a condition of employment (Executive Order 12564: "Drug Free Federal Workforce")."

The posting generated some predictable pushback, with one Facebook user commenting that "George Washington, founder of the US Army had 700 acres of marijuana at Mount Vernon and according to his journal he smoked it too." Others discussed legal limitations on search and seizure by military authorities.

But Facebook user Tom Schmidt wrote, "(I)f they are stupid enough to use it, they will only be facilitating the drawdown....via the express lane....buh bye...."

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