In recent years, a few states have legalized the possession and use of marijuana in small amounts. All service members need to understand how the changes in marijuana legalization affect them.
The basic facts of federal law and marijuana in the military
- Service members living in a state that has legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use are still subject to arrest by federal authorities under federal law.
- The Department of Defense has a clear position on drug use within the services, stating, “drug abuse and dependence are incompatible with readiness, the maintenance of high standards of performance and military discipline.”
- In addititon to federal laws, service members on federal duty are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Military installations are considered federal property. If a service member or military family member living on an installation is found in possession of or using marijuana, they will be subject to the federal laws related to marijuana — not the state laws.
What is the Uniform Code of Military Justice?
- The code is the judicial code that pertains to service members on federal duty.
- Under the code, service members can be charged, tried and convicted of crimes ranging from those similar to what civilians can face — such as robbery or arson — to those that are specific to the military, such as desertion or possession of marijuana in a state where it is otherwise legal.
- Marijuana is specifically cited in Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which states that any person subject to the code who wrongfully uses, possesses, manufactures, distributes, imports into or exports out of the United States, or introduces into an installation, vessel, vehicle or aircraft used by the military a controlled substance shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
Who is subject to the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice?
All service members serving under Title 10 orders are subject to the code, including:
- Active-duty service members in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force
- Members of the Coast Guard while operating as part of the Navy
- Active-duty Coast Guard members not operating as part of the Navy
- Members of the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve
- Soldiers and airmen in the National Guard who are activated in a federal capacity, either by an executive order from the president or during annual training periods
Regardless of the state you live in, if you are an active-duty or reserve service member, possession or use of marijuana is prohibited and punishable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While National Guard service members who are not activated in a federal capacity are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, they are subject to individual state codes of military justice and Department of Defense policy prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana. So, even if you're a National Guard service member not on federal orders in a state where marijuana use is legal, it's still likely illegal under the state code of military justice and you're still subject to punishment under your service's policies for a positive drug test.
Punishments for marijuana possession or a positive drug test
The Uniform Code of Military Justice has the following maximum punishments:
- Possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana — dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for five years
- Possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana — dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for two years
- Possession with intent to distribute, growing, importing or exporting marijuana — dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for 15 years
Even if the Uniform Code of Military Justice doesn’t apply to you, if you test positive for marijuana through a military drug test, your commander will initiate a separation action to remove you from service and may refer you for rehabilitative treatment.
Here’s the bottom line: Regardless of state laws regarding marijuana, active-duty service members are prohibited from possessing or using marijuana and are subject to punishment.
*The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation legal assistance office.