Alaska soldiers barred from events promoting marijuana

Alaska legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2015, but consumption of the drug by military servicemembers is prohibited. U.S. Army Alaska has restricted soldiers from attending any events involving promotion of the use of marijuana or hemp, including all fairs, festivals and conventions.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 23, 2016

Alaska-based soldiers have been barred from attending any events involving promotion of the use of marijuana or hemp, including all fairs, festivals and conventions, to clarify the military’s position as the state prepares to allow legal pot sales.

The policy, issued by Maj. Gen. Bryan Owens, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, was announced Thursday and took effect immediately. It is punitive — so a violation could mean punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It’s aimed in part at events “promoting the use of marijuana and disseminating information on the growing and processing” of it.

Alaskan voters approved legalized marijuana in November 2015. The state’s lawmakers are still hammering out regulations for its legal sale.

Alaska, Oregon, Colorado and Washington have all legalized recreational use of marijuana.

In Alaska, a legal user must be 21 or older, and use of marijuana is banned in all public spaces, such as schools, businesses, parks and roads.

Those of legal age can possess, grow and give away as many as six marijuana plants, but only three of the plants can be mature and flowering at any one time.

The federal government, however, still regards pot as an illegal substance, and the Department of Defense does not allow military servicemembers to use it, even in states and municipalities where it is legal.

The new USARAK policy was issued because “we just wanted to make sure folks know the left and right limits when they leave the installation,” said spokesman John Pennell. “One of those limits is, if it has to do with cannabis, if it has to do with marijuana or hemp, stay away.”

The policy was spurred in part by the enthusiasm shown by would-be pot retailers.

“The community here is extremely supportive of the military,” Pennell explained. “In some cases that can be less than helpful. For example we’ve had a couple businesses that are in the process of getting licenses to legally sell marijuana, and they advertised a military discount.

“We love your support and we love the fact that you want to give the military a discount, but our guys cannot take advantage of it.”

He said he did not know if such a policy had been implemented by the Army in other states with legal marijuana.

Commanders of overseas bases routinely issue lists of establishments off limits to American personnel for a variety of reasons, including sales of substances that would be illegal in the United States.

Many U.S. installations employ an Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board to make decisions about what establishments are off limits.

All businesses selling marijuana in Washington are off limits to military personnel.

But the new Alaska policy goes a step further in restricting attendance of events that don’t necessarily involve sales.

The policy in part reads, “I have determined that Soldier attendance at marijuana, cannabis or hemp fairs, festivals, conventions and similar events is inconsistent with military service and has the potential to adversely impact the health, welfare, good order and discipline of Soldiers, this command and tenant commands.”

Pennell said he didn’t know how many such pot festivals and events take place in Alaska.

“I would assume they will be more popular as the rules regarding the sale and use of marijuana get firmed up,” he said.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson