The US Coast Guard issued an order this week reminding all active duty service members that federal law prohibits them from using cannabis, even if they qualify for a state-legal medical marijuana program.
The new order takes the ban a step further, officially barring any uniformed personnel from even entering a business that grows, distributes, or sells cannabis, or from attending a pot-themed event. Service members are also banned from owning or investing in the cannabis industry, or from having a “close association with marijuana growth or distribution commercial enterprises.”
“This prohibition applies to fixed locations, mobile dispensaries, and online or delivery services,” the order clarifies. “This prohibition preserves good order and discipline and ensures the health and mission readiness of all Coast Guard military personnel.” Coast Guard members are further encouraged to “maintain a lifestyle that neither condones the use of illegal substances nor exposes them to accidental intake of illegal drugs.”
The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits all US military service members from using, growing, or possessing cannabis, but does not specifically prohibit members from entering pot dispensaries. This code doesn't include specific penalties for violating the Coast Guard's new order, but any member who is caught checking out a weed store can be charged with violating a general order, which is punishable by up to two years in prison, total forfeiture of pay, and a dishonorable discharge.
Commander Matt Rooney, Policy and Standards Division chief at Coast Guard Headquarters, told Military.com that the order was not issued in response to any specific incident, but just to ensure that there was no ambiguity in the force's cannabis policy. "As a military organization, we have to be clear and direct to providing [guidance] to our members," Rooney said. "The culture in certain parts of the nation is shifting around marijuana... we want to be clear to the work force in providing our expectation that consumption of marijuana is still prohibited.”
Although extreme, the Coast Guard's new policy falls in line with other government agencies, which continue to prohibit military service members and veterans from using cannabis, even in states where medical marijuana is legal. Recently, the Veterans Administration (VA) has been stepping up its prohibition efforts, denying pensions, low-interest home loans, and other military benefits to veterans working in the legal weed industry.
Lawmakers and veterans' advocacy groups have been fighting to convince the VA to allow veterans to use medical marijuana, especially since cannabis has been proven to effectively treat symptoms of PTSD. Every year for the past several years, Congressmembers have proposed bills that would legalize medical marijuana for veterans, but none of these bills has yet to succeed.