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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    'We're going to be blunt': Navy works on federal messaging as state legalizes marijuana

    The graphic that the Naval Submarine Base in Groton posted on Facebook, part of efforts to remind people that federal law still applies on the installation and its properties, even though the state is legalizing marijauna. (Courtesy of Naval Submarine Base)

    Groton — "Thinking about bringing marijuana on base? Weed rather you didn't," the Naval Submarine Base posted on Facebook on July 1, the day possession of marijuana became legal in Connecticut. "State law legalizing possession of marijuana doesn't apply to military installations."

    A few weeks later, the sub base posted a graphic with the message, "We're going to be blunt. Don't bring marijuana on base."

    Active-duty and civilian Navy personnel hope their puns will grab people's attention and get the message through.

    Related story: How are private employers handling recreational marijuana legalization?

    "It's always been a drug-free workplace for all federal employees, and that hasn't changed a bit," said Cmdr. Reg Preston, executive officer of the sub base. He said in addition to social media posts, the sub base has sent emails and held small-group discussions so people understand what the change in state law means — or rather, what it doesn't.

    Chris Zendan, public affairs officer for the base, said those discussions were "ensuring our chief petty officers are communicating to those junior sailors, the ones new to our Navy," that the Uniform Code of Military Justice "applies to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter where you are, so you've got to be careful."

    The UCMJ states that any person who "wrongfully uses, possesses, manufactures, distributes, imports," exports, or introduces into an installation certain substances "shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." Marijuana is listed.

    Zendan said one of the first things Preston wanted personnel to communicate is that "not knowing is not an excuse."

    While active-duty members are under the UCMJ and federal civilian employees are not, Preston said the latter could be subject to prosecution by the special assistant for the U.S. attorney.

    Zendan said for active-duty personnel, the outcome from an investigation could range from "administrative action to separation to even greater," depending on the severity of the case. Sub base security manager Jason Taggart — who is, like Zendan, a civilian employee — said civilians caught using or possessing marijuana are subject to disciplinary action under the Department of Navy Human Resources.

    A Department of Defense instruction on the DoD Civilian Employee Drug-Free Workplace Program states, "The DoD will be a drug-free workplace and that DoD federal civilian employees will not use illegal drugs, whether on duty or off duty."

    Zendan noted that some civilian positions include random drug testing, such as firefighters and security. Taggart said drug testing is spelled out in position descriptions during the hiring process.

    What about visitors? Taggart said a contractor could risk losing their contract, while a dependent could risk being barred from the base.

    "For such infractions on the base by a visitor or a guest, who is not a federal employee, not a contractor or not a military member, they can be held to the federal law standard and prosecuted for violation of federal law," Zendan said.

    Taggart said for any violation of federal law on federal property, someone could be issued a citation and have to see a federal judge in Hartford.

    Preston said the natural checkpoint to see if someone has drugs is at the gates; he said guards are trained to look for indications of intoxication or drug use, and there are signs at the gate that highlight what's prohibited on base. Taggart said the base also does random inspections, and it has a military working dog kennel with dogs that "are outstanding at finding any type of controlled substance."

    But "one of the best things that we have are individuals seeing something, they call us and say something," Taggart said.


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