The Navy is expanding its CBD and hemp ban for sailors and marines to cover topical products like shampoos and soaps derived from the federally legal crop, going beyond a previous prohibition focused on consumable preparations such as oils and tinctures.
The update was released just four days after the House of Representatives approved an amendment to a spending bill that would allow all military service members to use products containing hemp and its derivatives including cannabidiol.
In its new Friday memo, the Navy clarified that “use” of banned products “includes the use of topical products containing hemp, such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, lip balms, or soaps.” That language did not appear in either of its earlier hemp policy notices, including one released earlier this month.
It’s not clear what’s behind the rule’s expansion, but military branches have been consistently warning service members about consuming hemp-derived cannabinoids despite the crop’s federal legalization under the 2018 Farm Bill.
They’ve expressed concerns that, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate commercially available CBD products, there’s a risk of mislabeling and members inadvertently taking a product that contains excess THC that could show up on a drug test.
“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 latest memo, signed by Navy Secretary Kenneth J. Braithwaite, says.
“Substance misuse by members of the Armed Forces is incompatible with military standards of good order and discipline, performance, and operational readiness. It is the goal of the Department of the Navy (DON) to eliminate substance abuse,” it continues. “The use of products containing, made, or derived from hemp, including CBD, may interfere with the DON Drug Detection and Deterrence Program and result in the reporting of unlawful levels of THC in Sailors and Marines.”
A violation includes instances in which “a Service Member intends to use any product made or derived from hemp…regardless of the Service Member’s intended consequences of that use (e.g., mental or physical effects)” and is punishable “regardless of the product’s THC concentration, claimed or actual, and regardless of whether such product may lawfully be bought, sold, and used under the law applicable to civilians.”
The notice adds that the use of FDA-approved medications derived from cannabis such as Epidiolex that are prescribed to service members are permissible. Sailors and Marines may also still use “durable goods containing hemp, such as rope or clothing.”
In February, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced a policy barring all active and reserve service members from using hemp products, including CBD.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is seeking to change that with her amendment that was attached to a recently House-passed bill concerning DOD funding and policy.
The measure would make it so the “Secretary of Defense may not prohibit, on the basis of a product containing hemp or any ingredient derived from hemp, the possession, use, or consumption of such product by a member of the Armed Forces” as long as the crop meets the federal definition of hemp and that “such possession, use, or consumption is in compliance with applicable Federal, State, and local law.”
The Senate did not include the measure in its version of the defense legislation, however, and so its chances of being enacted into law will come down to negotiators on a bicameral conference committee that will prepare a final bill to send to the president’s desk.
Last year, the Navy issued an initial notice informing ranks that they’re barred from using CBD and hemp products no matter their legality. That memo, unlike the most recent one published last week, said the prohibition “does not apply to the use of topical products such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, or soaps.”
It’s not clear why the scope has more recently been broadened to include those non-consumable products.
DOD more broadly reaffirmed that CBD is off limits to service members, regardless of the federal legalization of hemp and its derivatives, in earlier notices published at the beginning of the year.
Both DOD and the Air Force have previously weighed in on the issue, stipulating that members are prohibited from using hemp-derived CBD.
The Coast Guard said that sailors can’t use marijuana or visit state-legal dispensaries. And NASA, which is not part of the military, warned that CBD products could contain unauthorized THC concentrations that could cost employees their jobs if they fail a drug test.
Another factor that could have influenced these policy updates is that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released guidance to federal agency drug program coordinators last year that outlined concerns about THC turning up in CBD products and causing failed drug tests.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr/U.S. Navy.