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New Coast Guard Order Bans Active Members From Entering Cannabis Dispensaries

The order also prohibits them from investing in cannabis businesses.

Adam Drury

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New Coast Guard Order Bans Active Members From Entering Cannabis Dispensaries
Glynnis Jones/ Shutterstock

States with legal recreational and/or medical marijuana make up a sizable portion of the U.S. coastline. But the servicewomen and men tasked with safeguarding those coasts won’t be able to take advantage of the change in policy and public attitudes on cannabis. That’s because on July 30, the United States Coast Guard issued an order banning active service members from entering cannabis dispensaries. But that’s only the beginning.

In total, the order amounts to a complete hands-off policy with respect to cannabis. Uniformed members of the Coast Guard also can’t use mobile dispensaries or online delivery services. In fact, they can’t even enter an establishment that grows, processes, manufactures, distributes or otherwise deals with cannabis in any way. Nor can they participate in any activities or events that promote or are connected with cannabis. They can’t even invest in cannabis companies. Furthermore, failure to comply with the new U.S. Coast Guard order comes with serious consequences. Even CBD could be off limits.

U.S. Coast Guard Issues Order Totally Banning Service Members from Cannabis

On Tuesday, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schulz issued an Alcoast Commandant Notice (ACN) prohibiting members of the Coast Guard from entering or in any way supporting marijuana establishments. The order also bans any use or possession of marijuana, even in states where there are legal protections for cannabis consumers. Despite legalization in several states, federal law still prohibits the use, possession and distribution of marijuana, and the U.S. Coast Guard is a branch of the military falling under federal jurisdiction.

In addition to federal law, there’s also the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Under the UCMJ, knowingly being an owner, operator, vendor, or direct investor for a marijuana business is also illegal. As is participation in or close association with commercial enterprises that grow or distribute cannabis. And that includes even so much as assisting or encouraging such enterprises. It’s all a violation of the UCMJ.

There’s only one exception to the Commandant Adm. Schulz order. The prohibition doesn’t cover medical facilities or pharmacies that distribute FDA-approved prescription medications containing THC or cannabidiol (CBD), such as Epidiolex. Other than that, however, the order, which applies immediately and at all times, prohibits any kind of connection to cannabis at all. And violating it carries serious penalties and consequences.

Violating the Coast Guard’s New Order Against Cannabis Carries Serious Consequences

In ACN 079/19, the new punitive Coast Guard order prohibiting any involvement with cannabis, Commandant Adm. Schulz wrote that marijuana use “poses a significant risk to Coast Guard personnel and to unit readiness, and negatively impacts mission execution.”

“I expect Coast Guard personnel to maintain a lifestyle that neither condones the use of illegal substances nor exposes them to accidental intake of illegal drugs,” Schulz wrote in the order.

It may seem like a hard line, but Schulz is simply reaffirming and clarifying what the UCMJ has always said. It also falls in line with drug-free federal workplace policies and executive orders that require all federal employees to refrain from illegal drugs. In Uncle Sam’s view, consuming cannabis makes people unfit for federal employment.

Coast Guard members are being advised to take the order seriously. Any violation of the order or the UCMJ—and even attempted violations or soliciting others to violate it—will result in administrative and disciplinary action. Punishments include a maximum punishment of two years confinement, forfeiting all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest pay grade in the military (E-1) and a dishonorable discharge or dismissal.

As for seizing drugs at the U.S. coastal borders, however, that’s still a core part of the Coast Guard’s mission. Coast Guard members may not be able to so much as bat an eye at legal cannabis. But they’ll still be snatching up shipments of marijuana and other drugs. According to the annual performance chart for the U.S. Coast Guard, members interdicted more than 15 tons of marijuana in 2017.

What About CBD?

Commandant Adm. Schulz order also addresses the changing legal landscape surrounding CBD. Recent changes to federal law have legalized hemp and substances like cannabidiol, so long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. As a result, cannabidiol products are becoming increasingly common and more widely available.

Such CBD products fall into a kind of grey area of what counts as a violation of the Coast Guard’s new punitive order. So service members are being advised to err on the side of caution, since unregulated CBD products may contain more THC than they claim on their labels.

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