Ingesting hemp-derived products still prohibited, Navy warns

A marijuana plant found during a patrol in Georgia by the state's Army National Guard in 2013. The Navy is warning sailors that hemp-derived products are still prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

By JOSHUA KARSTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 8, 2019

Sailors and Marines could still pop positive on a drug test if they use cannabidiol, popularly known as CBD, while treating medical conditions, the Navy warned this week.

In a new policy, the Department of the Navy forbids members of the Navy and Marine Corps from putting any products made of hemp or hemp derivatives into their bodies without a valid prescription, even if the goods are sold legally and despite manufacturer claims that they’re free of the psychoactive chemical found in pot, known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Low-THC hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act, which bans cannabis with higher amounts of the chemical, by a 2018 farm bill President Donald Trump signed in December, allowing the cultivation and interstate transfer of the plants and permitting hemp-derived products to be sold commercially in the U.S.

But the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t evaluate or certify THC concentrations in such products, meaning they could contain more than the 0.3% by dry weight that’s allowed under the new legislation, the office of the Chief of Naval Personnel said Wednesday in a statement announcing the policy.

“Sailors and Marines cannot rely on the packaging and labeling of hemp products in determining whether the product contains THC concentrations that could cause a positive urinalysis result,” the Navy said.

A policy message signed the same day by Navy Secretary Richard Spencer states that the use of hemp products — either by injection, ingestion, inhalation or other means, including absorption through the skin — would interfere with Navy and Marine Corps drug testing programs and “result in the reporting of unlawful THC levels.”

The other services already ban the use of such substances among their members.

Failure to comply with the Navy policy will be considered violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 92, failure to obey a lawful order or regulation, and any other article that applies, the service said.

Sailors who test positive for THC or other controlled substances face mandatory administrative or disciplinary action, including a possible “Other Than Honorable” discharge that can affect their eligibility for veterans’ benefits and employment opportunities.

The policy does not ban the use of topical products containing hemp or its derivatives, including shampoos, conditioners, lotions or soaps, the message states.

It’s the latest attempt to clarify military rules about cannabis-related goods and services amid the loosening of restrictions on pot-derived products and a growing number of states legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use.

While federal law and DOD policy remain opposed to possession, use, manufacture, sale or distribution of pot, rapid changes to the laws have caused confusion for the troops.

Earlier this year, some servicemembers had been warned that investing in marijuana businesses, knowingly or unknowingly, could jeopardize their employment or security clearances. This presented complications, since some mutual funds — including the government’s Thrift Savings Plan — include stocks in marijuana-related industries.

But, despite the warnings, the Defense Department had no official guidance “specific to financial involvement with marijuana,” Pentagon spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Audricia Harris said in March.

When the farm bill was signed last winter, DOD policy on drug abuse testing for military personnel did not mention hemp “per se,” though it did mention marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids and controlled substances, which includes THC, said the website for Operation Supplement Safety, a Pentagon resource for information about dietary supplements and prohibited ingredients.

But in separate service-specific rules, the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard had policies that forbid military members from using products made with hemp or hemp seed oil. The Navy and Marine Corps did not, until now.

In an attempt to cut through the haze around the products and policies, the Navy has produced fact sheets on the use of hemp or CBD that emphasize its “zero tolerance” on drug abuse, stating that even accidental exposure to the banned substances is not a legitimate excuse for a positive urinalysis.

“Unless you have a valid prescription to justify a positive result, you are subject to the full range of consequences from any drug positive urinalysis result,” the fact sheets state.

Twitter: @joshua_karsten

The Navy is warning sailors that hemp-derived products are still prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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