Military drug offenses: What you need to know

Eric Leckie 09/29/2020

lawyer hands scale of justice

The military takes a hardline view of drug use. Infractions — even just a positive drug test — can deal devastating blows to the careers and reputations of active-duty service members. That’s why it’s vital to get a knowledgeable advocate on your side as soon as possible.

The consequences for drug offenses — from a positive urine test to possession/distribution to wrongful use — can vary. But in all cases, a conviction could mean jail time, pay reductions or an end to your military career. And service members have both civilian and military authorities to consider.

Civilian authorities

If an incident occurs off of a base, criminal law penalties apply. While new laws in Virginia have de-criminalized possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, Virginia still has tough drug laws, with maximum penalties reaching up to 10 years in prison and $2,500 in fines. First-time offenses have an option for probation, accompanied by completing drug treatment programs and regular drug tests, among other potential conditions. But that still comes with restrictions, and treatment programs aren’t free. Military defense counsel will not represent you in a civilian court.

Military judicial authorities (court-martial)

When incidents happen on a military installation — or if civilian authorities aren’t prosecuting an off-installation offense— you could receive a court-martial. Consequences can include loss of pay, a grade reduction, confinement or an end to your military career.

An experienced attorney can aggressively fight charges before a court-martial. Faulty drug tests, insufficient evidence and other factors can contribute to a successful defense.

Marijuana has been a hot topic. It is now legal for medical use in 33 states, for recreational use in 11 of those, and decriminalized in several more. But it’s still off-limits for service members, and federal authorities can arrest service members under federal law no matter the state. Individual circumstances are key, but maximum punishments for marijuana possession or use can include:

  • Dishonorable discharge.
  • Forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
  • Confinement for up to 15 years.

Military non-judicial consequences

It may seem prudent to accept a non-judicial punishment over a court martial and let your commanding officer decide about your case and punishment. However, those punishments still can be very severe, and that choice relinquishes control.

Possible punitive measures may include:

  • Letter of reprimand.
  • Extra duty.
  • Restriction to limits.
  • Forfeiting pay.
  • A reduction in grade.
  • Losing pass privileges.
  • Mandatory participation in a substance abuse treatment program.
  • Corrective training.
  • Being barred from re-enlisting.

An attorney can help you look at the specific options for your case and choose the best path.

Get help from someone who understands

While strict consequences deter drug use, the pressures of military life can have the opposite effect. Deployments and other stresses can exacerbate drug use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Often, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries or serious substance addictions can play a role, and the consequences of a drug offense could compound the problems. And some hesitate to seek help out of concern for their reputations or careers.

The coronavirus pandemic has only complicated matters. Since March, overall drug use has increased significantly and access to treatment has been more limited, according to NIDA. Especially given that stark backdrop, a skilled defense lawyer with close knowledge of the armed forces can make all the difference in the outcome of a case.

Invictus Law lawyers offer the powerful combination of a high-caliber defense and military expertise. Please contact us online or at (757) 337-3737; we offer free consultations. Our office is open and we are able to meet with you in person. We are also happy to provide appointments via phone or video chat to comply with social distancing recommendations.

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