Marijuana legalization and reform have been everywhere in the news lately. Since Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in November 2012, 16 other states have followed suit, in addition to Washington, D.C., and Guam. Marijuana possession is decriminalized in 13 other states, as well as in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and many other states have legalized cannabis for medicinal use.
This leads many active-duty servicemembers to wonder, can I use marijuana without jeopardizing my military career?
Marijuana legalization is on the march after decades of false starts. The so-called “green rush” began on Election Day 2012 when Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative that made their state the first in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis use. Washington State actually beat Colorado to the punch, as legalization there went into effect on December 6 of that year, four days before it did in the Centennial State.
In April 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in the Commonwealth, effective as of July 1 of that year. The following February, both houses of the General Assembly voted to legalize recreational cannabis, and by April 7, a final version of the bill was sent to Northam’s desk.
While the bill was originally slated to go into effect in 2024, the process was instead fast-tracked, and Virginia will officially become the 16th state to have legalized marijuana for recreational use on July 1, 2021. Individuals over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of cannabis, as well as to own up to four plants per household for personal cultivation.
Military Members and Marijuana Use
Unfortunately for active-duty military servicemembers, marijuana remains criminalized at the federal level, and cannabis use (both recreationally and medically) remains a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Additionally, the UCMJ does not provide any exceptions to this rule for servicemembers not currently on post.
Reservists and guardsmen and women are similarly barred from using marijuana and are subject to at least one drug test per year — and often a surprise one on top of that. Given that THC (the psychoactive element of marijuana) can remain in the bloodstream for 35 days after consumption, it is almost impossible for servicemembers to hide their cannabis use long-term.
Consequences of Marijuana Use for Servicemembers
Servicemembers who have been determined to have used marijuana through urinalysis and without related behavioral issues or violations are frequently subject to administrative discharge. However, per the UCMJ, servicemembers found to have used marijuana “shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
Arrested? How Invictus Law Can Help
While servicemembers accused of drug crimes must be represented in a court-martial by a member of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, the Virginia Beach drug crime defense lawyers of Invictus Law are ready to protect the rights of military spouses and children who might be facing drug charges of any kind. Our team of compassionate and aggressive criminal defense lawyers has extensive experience helping both military servicemembers and civilians with a wide variety of legal matters.
Contact us today to speak with an experienced Virginia drug defense attorney about your case.