The Navy released a notice on Wednesday making clear that sailors are prohibited from possessing or using hemp-derived CBD, even though the crop and its derivatives are no longer federally controlled substances.

The military branch emphasized that it has a “zero tolerance” drug policy and said that even with the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp, “Navy policy has not been affected” and “all products derived from hemp or marijuana are still prohibited.”

“While currently deemed legal for civilians in some states, all hemp and CBD products are strictly prohibited for use by Sailors.”

Part of the reasoning, according to the memo, is that CBD products are generally not being regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may contain THC that could appear on a drug screening.

“Consequently, Sailors and Marines cannot rely on the packaging and labeling of hemp products in determining whether the product contains THC concentrations that could cause a positive urinalysis result,” the policy says.

Testing positive for THC is grounds for an “Other Than Honorable” discharge that could impact veteran benefits and employment opportunities, the Navy said.

“Substance abuse by members of the Armed Forces is incompatible with military standards of good order and discipline, performance, and operational readiness,” the policy states. “It is the goal of the Department of the Navy to eliminate substance abuse.

“Sailors and Marines are prohibited from knowingly using products made or derived from hemp (as defined in 7 U.S.C. 1639o), including cannabidiol (CBD), regardless of the products THC concentration, claimed or actual, and regardless of whether such product may lawfully be bought, sold, and used under the law applicable to civilians. Use means to inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce into the human body. Use includes the knowing use of hemp products designed to penetrate through the skin layer, including but not limited to transdermal patches.”

However, there appears to be some gray area because while products meant to penetrate skin are banned, there’s an exception in the policy for “topical products such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, or soaps.” It also doesn’t apply to the use of FDA-approved drugs such as the CBD-based prescription medication Epidiolex.

The Navy also reports positive drug tests to the FBI for the purposes of including that information in the federal criminal background checks system, meaning sailors who are flagged could have applications for firearm purchases denied.

“It is the responsibility of every Sailor to ensure that he or she is diligent in avoiding intentional or accidental exposure to THC and other prohibited substances,” Navy wrote in a press release about the policy.

It’s not clear how Navy would be able to enforce its anti-CBD policy if the products don’t contain THC, or not enough to show up on a drug test. Conventional drug screening tests are designed to detect metabolites of THC, not CBD.

The Navy also released a pair of fact sheets on hemp and CBD to provide additional clarity, including answers to some frequently asked questions:

Q: I’m stationed in a state with legalized recreational marijuana. Am I allowed to use marijuana or CBD products?

No. The local law does not apply to Sailors as it relates to these substances. Navy policy is zero-tolerance for substance abuse, and it was not affected by the 2018 Farm Bill and its provisions regarding hemp- and marijuana derived products. Using these products could cause a THC positive urinalysis result, which can negatively impact your Navy career and future benefits.

Q: Am I allowed to use CBD products that are labelled “THC-free?”

No. CBD products are not allowed under Navy’s drug policy. These products are not regulated or inspected by the FDA, so they may still contain THC even if their labels claim otherwise.

Q: What would happen if I am accidentally exposed to something that has CBD in it and then test positive for THC?

It is your responsibility to know what is in the products or foods you consume or to which you are exposed. Accidental ingestion is not a legitimate excuse for a drug positive urinalysis. Unless you have a valid prescription to justify a positive result, you are subject to the full range of consequences from any drug-positive urinalysis result.

State-level marijuana legalization efforts, coupled with the federal legalization of hemp and hemp-derived products, seem to have generated some confusion that’s made it necessary for military branches to issue guidance. The Coast Guard issued an order last month stating that active duty members are barred from using cannabis or even entering a marijuana shop even if the business is legal in the state.

But the scope of the Navy memo goes a step further by banning sailors from using a non-intoxicating product that one-in-seven Americans now use, primarily for therapeutic purposes.

Coast Guard Issues Order Barring Active Duty Members From Visiting Marijuana Shops

Photo courtesy of Flickr/U.S. Navy.

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