Legal marijuana has apparently not tempted many Joint Base Lewis-McChord troops to risk their military careers for the sake of a sample of the goods at the state’s new pot stores.
The rate of local soldiers failing drug tests because of marijuana use has declined since Washington voters legalized cannabis in 2012. The trend held steady in 2014 even as recreational marijuana shops opened for the first time, according to data released by the Army.
The Washington National Guard also recorded a steep drop in citizen soldiers testing positive for marijuana use. In 2012, 68 Washington National Guard soldiers tested positive for marijuana use; the number fell to 26 last year.
Military leaders attribute the decline in positive drug tests to an information campaign they’ve launched to remind troops and military family members that they cannot bring marijuana on federal property.
“The state law is changing, but the federal law is not changing for you,” said Maj. Jay Cash, provost marshal for JBLM’s installation services.
Troops also are told frequently that marijuana use is illegal under federal law and could lead to career-ending discipline in a military court. It’s a key point in messages commanders give their units on Fridays before releasing soldiers for the weekend.
"Use of illegal drugs is inconsistent with Army values and not tolerated in our ranks,” said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Stephen Platt. “Importantly, the vast majority of our soldiers are drug-free, and are serving our country honorably, upholding the values the Army expects and our nation demands.”
The News Tribune in March reported that positive drug tests for marijuana use had declined at JBLM since Washington voters passed Initiative 502 in November 2012.
An updated Army report shows that marijuana use also declined at Fort Carson, Colorado, which is located in the only other state with legal marijuana and recreational pot shops.
At JBLM, 315 of the 34,530 soldiers who were given urinalyses tested positive for marijuana use in 2012 — a rate of .91 percent.
The number of soldiers assigned to the base declined in the next two years, and so did the rate of soldiers with marijuana in their urine. It dropped to 249 positives out of 33,121 soldiers tested in 2013 (a rate of .75 percent) and crept up slightly to 250 out 30,836 (a rate of .81 percent) in 2014.
At Fort Carson, 365 soldiers tested positive for marijuana use in 2012. Last year, 254 Fort Carson soldiers tested positive for the drug.
Nearly every soldier takes a drug test at least once a year; some take them several times because of random testing or because they tested positive previously. In 2012, JBLM administered a total of 105,866 drug tests. By 2014, as the number of soldiers at the base continued to go down, 96,372 tests were done on the base.
Cash said soldiers tend to understand that they cannot smoke marijuana and keep their jobs in the Army.
He said the message can be more confusing to Army family members. They’re allowed to possess and use marijuana off base but cannot bring it onto the military installation.
“That’s a challenge. They’ll be doing their own personal thing, and some of them will want to come to the base,” Cash said.
Cash instructs officers to arrest drivers if they’re clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If not, “We just turn them around, and say ‘Hey, you can’t have your marijuana on the installation.’ ”