Military says Washington state marijuana shops 'off-limits' to troops

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 28, 2015 6:35 PM

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A U.S. military base south of Seattle has sent letters warning retail marijuana shops that military personnel are banned from entering their businesses and buying cannabis products, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The letters were sent last week by the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in the Tacoma area.

"The use, possession, manufacture, or distribution of marijuana remains illegal for all service members, at all times and locations," said Lewis-McChord spokesman Joe Kubistek.

Washington state voters joined Colorado in 2012 in approving the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in state-regulated systems that have ushered in retail shops carrying a range of marijuana products for adults. Voters in Alaska and Oregon adopted similar initiatives last year.

Those actions have put the states in conflict with the federal government, which maintains marijuana is illegal under U.S. and military law.

A Defense Department spokeswoman said she was unaware of a broader directive to bases in other states ordering them to send similar letters. A spokeswoman for Fort Carson, in Colorado, said the base was not sending out letters for now.

Lewis-McChord issuing warning letters is standard procedure when there are local conditions near military installations that could be "adverse" to armed forces personnel, Kubistek said, adding letters were not sent to medical marijuana dispensaries.

Kubistek said the base had no intention of interfering with the businesses' operations and that avoiding pot shops is the legal responsibility of service members who fall under the purview of military law.

Military officials did not comment on whether they expect proprietors to simply refuse service or to take further action, like notifying the base if a service member tries to buy marijuana.

Shawn Sortland, the owner of Clear Choice Cannabis in Tacoma, said he received a letter and was unclear about what was expected. He said he sent the letter to his attorney for a review.

"On one hand, we want to be in compliance. But we can't discriminate against anybody," Sortland said.

Sortland said there is no way to identify customers as military personnel if they are in civilian clothing. "It's not like they are wearing a name tag," he said.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Will Dunham and Eric Walsh)