Military Drug Policy Unchanged by Washington Marijuana Laws

Military Drug Policy Unchanged by Washington Marijuana Laws

Washington residents will soon be able to legally purchase marijuana from special retail stores in the coming months – the state's military members, however, have been warned to abstain.

Specifically, service members in Washington have been reminded that purchasing or possessing marijuana will result in not only criminal charges but also career-ending discipline with revocation of benefits, as the substance is still federally banned.

Nor will any exceptions be made for medicinal marijuana. "Our soldiers understand what's legal," Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the senior Army officer at Washington base Lewis-McChord, stated last week. "From our perspective, marijuana or any type of illegal drug is something that's not tolerated."

Washington's National Guard commander has also weighed in on the issue. "Use of marijuana is illegal under federal law and Department of Defense policy," Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty stated in a 2012 memo. "Recent passage of Initiative 502 legalizing marijuana under Washington state law does not change this policy. All soldiers and airmen are hereby ordered not to possess or use marijuana at any time."

Interestingly, recent numbers from test results at Lewis-McChord suggest that drug use has not been overwhelmingly problematic; last year, of 86,856 urinalysis tests completed (amounting to roughly two tests per solider per year), 1,123 tests yielded positive results indicative of drug use. Of those 1,123 tests, only 396 were marijuana. These numbers had significantly declined since 2011.

These seemingly low numbers will not, however, lead to change in military policy. "Statistically it is insignificant, but we are monitoring for any upward trends that impact our ability to recruit the best and brightest to serve in our Army," Seattle Recruiting Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Ron Henry stated.

Such tests are ordered at random, and no one is exempt; even the Army Attorney assigned to administer Lewis-McChord courts martial was selected for a urinalysis just last year during his prosecution of Kandahar massacre defendant Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

In terms of recruiting, past marijuana use does not render candidates ineligible for any of the military's service branches. Further, according to the Army Recruiting Command, enlistees who admit past drug use are neither flagged nor tracked throughout their service. Henry himself, having disclosed prior marijuana use when he joined the Army in 1991, identifies with recruits who may have lacked discretion in the past. "We understand young people sometimes make poor decisions, and they learn from their mistakes," he said.

Once enlisted, however, a failed test result will result in the military's official withdrawal of its offer.

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