Pentagon Quietly Moves to Make CBD Use a Criminal Offense for Troops

In this March 24, 2017, photo, bottles of hemp oil, or CBD, are for sale at the store Into The Mystic in Mission, Kansas. (Allison Long/The Kansas City Star via AP)
In this March 24, 2017, photo, bottles of hemp oil, or CBD, are for sale at the store Into The Mystic in Mission, Kansas. (Allison Long/The Kansas City Star via AP)

U.S. troops can now be punished for using products that contain hemp or cannabidiol, according to a Defense Department memo recently made public.

In February, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan directed the services to issue general orders or regulations by March 1 prohibiting the use of products made from hemp under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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Donovan's memo, dated Feb. 26, was highlighted Monday in a tweet by the DoD's Operation Supplement Safety, an initiative within the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences that provides information to service members on dietary supplements.

Troops have known since last year that most products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, were off-limits, with two of the four DoD services issuing guidance restricting use of any form of CBD, including in supplements, creams, ointments and tinctures.

But the new orders make use of hemp and CBD punitive across all DoD active-duty and reserve component personnel, including the Navy and Marine Corps, whose members were allowed under the Department of the Navy to use topical products like shampoo, lotions and creams.

Donovan said the move was needed to "protect the integrity of the drug testing program."

"I specifically find a military necessity to require a prohibition of this scope to ensure the military drug testing program continues to be able to identify the use of marijuana, which is prohibited, and to spare the U.S. military the risks and adverse effects marijuana use has on the mission readiness of individual service members and military units," he wrote.

The federal government removed hemp from its list of controlled substances under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. By law, hemp that contains less than .3% THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) is legal.

Since hemp's legalization, the market for CBD, derived from the hemp plant, has exploded into a $1 billion industry in the U.S., with products touted to help nearly every ache and ailment, from pain and stress to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Although products containing CBD and less than .3% THC are legal in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration does not certify the ingredients of dietary supplements, and in an unregulated market, such products may contain levels of THC that may cause service members to pop positive on a drug test.

Since troops can't determine exactly what they are getting in any CBD product and the DoD can't practically maintain a list of approved hemp products, all products must be off-limits, Donovan said.

If a service member is found to have used a CBD product, it would be punishable under Article 92 of the UCMJ. Exceptions include use by authorized personnel in the performance of medical duties, those who ingest or use hemp and weren't aware that what they were consuming contained hemp or CBD, and those taking it "pursuant to legitimate law enforcement duties," according to the memo.

The order also does not apply to those taking FDA-approved medications that contain CBD or synthetic cannabis, including Epidiolex, Marinol and Syndros.

The Air Force and Army have had policies since last year that made use of any CBD product punishable under Article 92.

The Navy's policy restricted ingestible CBD or other hemp products but allowed Marines and sailors to use topical goods.

But according to a Navy official, additional guidance is in the works to align the service's policy with the memo to apply to all sailors and Marines.

The Coast Guard's policy restricts ingestion of hemp oil or products made from hemp seed oil but does not include food items that contain hemp ingredients.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman said Tuesday that the service's policy to allow food items containing hemp remains in effect. The service falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and not the DoD.

Lt. Brittany Panetta added that marijuana and other THC products remain prohibited under federal law, and Coast Guard men and women are not allowed to participate in any event that celebrates cannabis or enter any establishment that sells or promotes such products.

"The Coast Guard does not foresee any change to our clear and firm prohibition on the use of any cannabis-based products by Coast Guard members/employees. In order to protect themselves from potential violations of law and policy, members must make deliberate choices of their behaviors and, if in doubt, err on the side of caution," Panetta said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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