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Pot use has penalties

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Sale of recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado Jan. 1 allowing anyone age 21 or older to consume the drug.

Well, almost anyone. Active-duty service members, federal employees, and to some extent, dependents are still prohibited from using the third most popular drug in America after alcohol and tobacco.

"For active-duty service members, the use, possession or distribution of marijuana is illegal and punishable under Article 112a of the [Uniform Code of Military Justice], regardless of the legal status of marijuana off-base," said Capt. Alexander Dehner, 50th Space Wing assistant staff judge advocate.

This includes use, possession or distribution of marijuana, otherwise known as pot, while outside of federal installations.

"In other words, marijuana use remains illegal for all active-duty service members, whether on or off duty," he said. "Whatever state has decided to adopt or change its laws, it doesn't change the rules we have to abide by as service members."

Though federal civilian employees are not subject to criminal action under the UCMJ, they are still prohibited from using marijuana by virtue of their employment with the government. Such use may result in disciplinary action or other adverse administrative consequences, such as suspension or revocation of one's security clearance.

"There are conditions for civilians in terms of their employment and position in the DOD that prohibit marijuana use," Dehner said.

Additionally, legal officials encourage service members to inform their dependents that marijuana is prohibited on federal establishments.

"While the state of Colorado may say you can lawfully possess 'X' amount of marijuana, there are still federal laws out there that prohibit bringing and possessing marijuana on military installations, especially in base housing," Dehner said.

Any person found in possession of marijuana on a military installation could be barred from base for a significant period of time and ejected from residing in base housing.
Additionally, while a dependent can legally possess marijuana in his or her off-base residence, doing so may nevertheless jeopardize the active-duty member.

"Possession under the UCMJ means, generally, to exercise control over something, whether it's in your backpack, car, house, etc.," Dehner said. "If a dependent possesses marijuana in the residence, the active duty member will also be deemed to be in possession of it as well, unless he or she truly doesn't know the dependent has it."

Military and federal civilians should also avoid putting themselves in situations where Colorado locals may be recreationally using marijuana in their presence. They may also need to know the establishments that may be frequented by recreational marijuana users.

"Depending on various factors, punishments for Airmen caught using, possessing or distributing marijuana may include Article 15 up to court martial, as well as loss of pay and/or rank and confinement," Dehner said. "Drug use, which includes pot, in the Air Force may result in mandatory discharge processing, which means commanders have to initiate the discharge process."

The Department of Defense will continue to use random urinalysis testing as a means of detecting marijuana use by military and civilian personnel, and commanders will continue to have the authority to bring the full force of the UCMJ against those Airmen who choose to use, possess or distribute marijuana.

For more information or questions, call the legal office at 567-5050.
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