NEWS | July 15, 2021

Marijuana, cannabis derivatives off limits for Arctic Guardians

By David Bedard 176th Wing Public Affairs

The 176th Wing command team is reiterating that marijuana and cannabis derivatives, including CBD oil, are strictly off limits to Airmen whether on-duty or off, on active orders or not.

Capt. Gennie Woods, 176th Wing deputy staff judge advocate, said the Department of Defense policy and the Alaska Code of Military Justice are clear.

“The DoD has a zero-tolerance policy for illicit drug use or wrongful use of drugs,” she said. “Members who violate this policy can face adverse actions under the Alaska Code of Military Justice actions, such as an Article 15. They can also face adverse administrative actions such as demotions or an administrative discharge.”

Terrell Paul, program manager, 176th Wing Drug Demand Reduction Program, said the Wing is seeing an uptick of Airmen testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. Following inconsistent testing during the height of the COVID pandemic, he said the Wing is back to the normal testing rate of the unit during every drill as well as active members during the week.

“The methodology is deterrence, and that is the primary goal of this program,” he said.

Woods said the legalization of marijuana in Alaska can create legal and career pitfalls for Airmen. Although the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana is legal in Alaska, it is important to understand that federal law has not changed concerning this matter.

Woods said the use of marijuana, cannabidiol (CBD), CBD derivatives and THC-infused products is still prohibited for military members. Wrongful use and/or possession of these substances will have adverse career implications.

Violations for Title 10 members may result in disciplinary action under the punitive articles of the UCMJ (e.g., Article 112a, UCMJ). Violations may also result in adverse administrative action; criminal prosecution under federal laws; or, for Title 32 Air National Guard members, adverse action under the Alaska Code of Military Justice (e.g., A.S. 26.05.870). 

Paul said beyond being taken in non-traditional form, the products themselves can be stronger than in the past.

“What we have found out is that younger Airmen are using these substances by taking vape pens or using edibles,” Paul said. “They are not going out and using something that goes into a bong. They’re buying higher concentrates of THC.”

Regardless of form, Woods said the policy is clear. Air Force Manual 44-197, Military Drug Demand Reduction Program, paragraph 1.2.2, states that in order to ensure military readiness and the reliability and integrity of the drug-testing program, the knowing ingestion (orally, intravenously, through smoking/vaporization, or through other means) of products containing or products derived from hemp is prohibited.

“Further, the DoD published a policy in 2019 barring all active, Reserve, and Guard members from using any type of hemp product, which includes CBD oils,” Woods said. “The policy also prohibits possession, manufacture, distribution, importation and exportation of these products, as well as any hemp products designed to penetrate the skin, including but not limited to transdermal patches.”

Woods explained the problems with CBD products.

“The issue we run into is CBD oil or hemp products may have traces of THC in them,” she said. “They can trigger a positive THC result in testing, and there’s no way to distinguish in a positive case if it is from CBD oil, from a hemp product, or from smoking pot. All we know is they tested positive for THC, and that’s prohibited.

“From a legal perspective, we strongly advise Airmen to be aware of what products they use,” Woods continued. “Products containing cannabidiol and marijuana extracts are quickly growing in popularity and accessibility, especially in Alaska. When using electronic cigarettes, vape products, etc., it is important to thoroughly research them and carefully read the labels to ensure that no cannabinoids or other marijuana derivatives are included in the ingredients. Additionally, exercise caution when using other products that could potentially contain CBD or THC, such as dietary supplements, foods, or beverages.”

Because marijuana is legal in Alaska but still a federally Schedule 1-controlled substance and federally illegal, Airmen need to be mindful of the implications, Woods said, even if it’s legal for civilian members of their households who reside off a federal installation to use and possess marijuana.

It may be legal for a civilian family member, but it is still illegal for the military member to use or possess marijuana and its derivatives. Despite this, it’s always important for Airmen to understand the law as it applies to them as military members.

Woods said the command recognizes there may be social situations where an Airmen accidentally ingests a substance offered to them in an otherwise legal form like a cookie.

“What we recommend in cases like that is for the member to report the incident to their chain of command and to seek medical attention immediately.” she said.

Paul said the 176th Wing Drug Demand Reduction Program, in an effort to promote healthy drug-free lifestyles, stresses education over punitive measures.

“We’re not out just to catch people doing drugs,” he said. “What we’re out there to do is say, ‘Hey, we’re watching, don’t do drugs, let’s give you some education, and let’s prevent you from using illegal substances.’”

For any legal questions concerning this matter or other ACMJ or UCMJ articles, contact the local Judge Advocate office. If assistance is needed after being charged with an offense against the ACMJ or facing adverse administrative actions, contact the Area Defense Counsel. For any questions about the Air Force Drug Testing Program, contact the wing’s Drug Demand Reduction Program manager.