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Marijuana and the military: Can an active-duty spouse sell pot?

Cassie Hickam smokes marijuana at a pub in Olympia, Wash., in July 2013.

SOUTH KITSAP — Kathy, a South Kitsap resident, saw once-in-a-lifetime potential in the newly legalized marijuana industry.

She spent months last fall combing through the state’s Liquor Control Board rules, lining up investors and nailing down locations for three retail stores. After filing applications with the state, she had one more thing to do: tell her husband.

Kathy’s spouse is an active duty military service member. He happened to be deployed and out of contact during the months she was making her plans. Kathy broke the news of her planned business venture when he returned this month. He was surprised but supportive.

“He said ‘it sounds like a great opportunity, let’s do it,’” said Kathy, 29, who asked her last name and details of her husband’s service be withheld.

The question now is whether her husband’s military employers will be so understanding.

Initiative 502 legalized limited possession and consumption of recreational marijuana in Washington. It also allows production, processing and sales of marijuana through licensed businesses — the kind Kathy applied for.

The state law is in direct conflict with federal law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which criminalize possession and distribution of pot. A service member who is found carrying drugs, or tests positive for them, may face administrative separation or worse. Security clearances can also be jeopardized.

How the military will view a service member whose spouse is, by federal standards, a drug dealer, remains to be seen.

“The spouse is technically violating federal law, even if she’s following state law,” said Steven Krupa, a Pierce County defense lawyer who also serves as a Command Judge Advocate at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “If your husband gets into any sort of connection to this, they could get into trouble,”

Lawyers say the conflict between legalized pot and military code creates a treacherous gray area for service members and their families. Initiative author Alison Holcomb, who serves as criminal justice director for the ACLU of Washington, said it’s a wrinkle of the new marijuana law that has yet to be explored.

“I simply don’t know where the military comes down on this,” Holcomb said.

A spokeswoman with Submarine Group 9 at Naval Base Kitsap — Bangor said the Navy has no specific policies addressing legalized marijuana in Washington. A U.S. Department of Defense spokesman pointed to federal statutes already on the books and said his office could not comment on hypotheticals.

Kathy said her husband has inquired with his superiors to determine if her proposed enterprise could jeopardize his career.

Krupa has already seen a number of drug violations involving service members whose spouses had medical marijuana cards. Some argued they’d had incidental contact with their spouse’s legal pot. The success of the defense was varied, Krupa said. Much depends on how staunchly local commands enforce code.

Kathy said she has done everything she can to dissociate her husband from her proposed stores. He won’t be part of the ownership, help with the operation or have contact with the inventory.

“He’s going to have no involvement in the company whatsoever,” she said.

With more than 7,000 marijuana business applications filed statewide — 216 in Kitsap — there are likely more military spouses testing the uncertain legal boundaries.

Kathy said she’s never smoked marijuana. She has no interest in trying it. Her interest is in the profits, which she believes could be substantial, especially for retail stores. Only 10 will be allowed in the county. Retail licenses will probably be issued this summer.

Kathy envisions clean, secure shops serving a middle-class clientele.

“I don’t see why it has to be any different from an upscale wine shop,” she said.

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