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Military Retirees: Light ‘Em Up – at Your Own Risk.


Military Retirees: Light ‘Em Up – at Your Own Risk.

By: Dorian DeWind

I am a military retiree.

In the back of my mind I knew that retired members of the armed forces (who are entitled to pay) are still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

As a hopefully law-abiding retiree I have never given it much thought, however.

Furthermore, it was my understanding that if a retiree was ever “hauled-in” to face military justice, it would be for some very severe crime.

In a recent article, the Stars and Stripes confirms, “The long arm of military law also extends to retired servicemembers who draw pension payments. In rare cases, the services have recalled retirees to charge them with crimes.”

But for lighting up a joint? Not that I am worried, because I don’t even smoke the regular joints.

However, the same Stripes article warns that retirees are “technically still subject to military law that forbids pot smoking anywhere, including Washington state and Colorado where recreational marijuana use is now allowed,” but quickly adds that while getting high will put a retiree in a legal gray area, “the chances of being charged with a crime are practically nil,” according to legal experts.

For active duty servicemembers, even those residing in cities or states that have adopted liberalized pot laws — a total of 21 states have legalized marijuana use in some form — the Defense Department has made it crystal clear that “servicemembers and civilian employees can never use marijuana because of prohibition by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and federal law, which still considers it an illegal street drug.”

The Stars and Stripes:

The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Air Force base in Alaska, a state where growing and using small quantities of pot has been legal since 2012, warned airmen earlier this year that “all servicemembers, including retirees, cadets and reserve members entitled to pay” can be charged for pot under the UCMJ.

Under military law, possessing more than an ounce can be punished with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and five years in the brig. Those caught with less than an ounce face the same discharge and pay punishments but only two years confinement, according to the Air Force.

Some additional notes from the Stripes that may, or may not, put pot-smoking retirees at ease:

Eugene Fidell, a Yale University law professor and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says, “As a practical matter [retirees can be charged with crimes]. But the chances that a retiree would get charged under the UCMJ for marijuana use are so close to zero, I don’t think anyone should lose sleep over it.”

Greg Rinckey, a former military prosecutor and partner in the Tully Rinckey law firm in Washington, D.C., says, “I just don’t see them court-martialing any retirees for smoking pot.”

As to retirees who smoke legal marijuana and receive treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs, they “may be asked for blood or urine in the course of routine care — that is for diagnosis purposes and not drug testing in any legal sense.”

The VA told the Stars and Stripes it cannot prescribe medical marijuana to patients because of federal law, but it does not care whether veterans use pot in states where that is allowed.

VA is aware that some veterans who reside in states with marijuana programs and who also receive care in VA, do indeed participate in marijuana programs,” spokeswoman Gina Jackson wrote in a statement. “Given the differences between state and federal laws regarding marijuana, a veteran’s decision to participate in a state marijuana program is a personal one and not one dictated administratively by VA.

The Stripes concludes:

Overall, retirees are likely in the clear when it comes to legal pot, but there may be only one option for those who want complete peace of mind.

Rinckey said those looking for zero legal risk should just not smoke it.

This retiree will continue his personal policy of looking for zero medical risk and zero legal risk and not smoke anything — except for smoking stuff in my grill.



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