Using CBD products is now a crime in the military, as Pentagon tightens restrictions

Elizabeth Howe
June 25, 2020 - 2:02 pm
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Now more so than in the past, CBD could spell trouble for active-duty and Reserve service members. 

While each branch has established restrictions on the use of products with hemp or cannabidiol -- some branches more restrictive than others -- the Department of Defense moved earlier this year to make that usage prohibited in all branches. And violations are punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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"Substance misuse by service members is a safety and readiness issue, and the Department must remain vigilant in addressing emerging threats, including those that come from new products and sources," a memo from Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan dated Feb. 26 reads. 

These restrictions are not new -- the Air Force and Army already ban the use of CBD and hemp products, and the Navy and Marine Corps limit usage to topical goods such as lotions, shampoos or soaps. But this new memo from Donovan prohibits all use across all service branches. 

According to Donovan's memo, the overarching ban removes some of the complications CBD and hemp usage introduces into the military's drug-testing system. 

"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.

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Hemp products may legally contain up to 0.3 percent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry weight basis -- even though weed-based THC remains illegal. The THC content of legal hemp products is still high enough that it could result in a positive drug test for a service member. Donovan argues a sweeping ban of hemp and CBD products would prevent this possibility. 

Now, service members are punishable under Article 92 of the UCMJ for any use of CBD or hemp products.

There are a few exceptions. The use of CBD or hemp products "pursuant to legitimate law enforcement activities," by authorized personnel in the performance of medical duties, without knowledge that the product was made or derived from hemp, will not be punished, according to the memo. 

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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