gavel on the desk of a military judge

Considering the Legal Implications of Drunk Driving and Marijuana Use

Whether you’re living on or off the installation, driving under the influence or possessing or using marijuana can get you in serious trouble in the military. You should understand the consequences of these legal issues and how to handle them, if you do land in legal trouble.

Legal implications of driving under the influence

If you are charged with driving under the influence on or off your local military installation, you could face various judicial and nonjudicial punishments.

Civilian punishments vary by state and may include any of the following:

  • Criminal law penalties
  • Suspension or revocation of your license
  • Mandatory alcohol education, assessment and treatment
  • Vehicle confiscation

Judicial punishment (court-martial): If you are stopped on the installation or the civilian authorities are not prosecuting, you can receive a court-martial under Article 111 of the Uniform

Code of Military Justice. Punishments can include loss of pay, reduction in grade, confinement and dismissal from the military.

Nonjudicial punishment: Commanding officers can levy nonjudicial punishment for minor disciplinary offenses under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Commanding officers can punish you through an official reprimand, extra duty, restriction to limits, forfeiture of pay or reduction in grade. Additional punitive actions may include:

  • Letter of reprimand
  • Revocation of pass privileges
  • Mandatory referral to substance abuse treatment program
  • Corrective training
  • Administrative reduction in grade
  • Bar you from re-enlistment

If you’ve been charged, you should consult your military defense counsel for advice. The military defense counsel can provide confidential advice while allowing you the right to hire a civilian defense attorney. If you have been charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, you are entitled to no-cost representation by a military defense counsel, or you may opt to hire a civilian attorney at your own expense.

If you are facing criminal charges off-installation, then the military defense counsel cannot represent you in civilian court and you may need to hire a civilian attorney for representation. Dependents and civilian family members are not entitled to representation by a military defense counsel regardless of the location of the incident and would need to seek civilian representation, if they deem necessary.

Please note that if a member faces trial in an off-installation civilian court, he or she may need to consult a civilian defense attorney.

The basic facts of federal law and marijuana in the military

Some states have legalized the possession and use of marijuana in small amounts. Regardless of state laws regarding marijuana, active-duty service members are prohibited from possessing or using marijuana and are subject to punishment.

If you live in a state that has legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use, you are still subject to arrest by federal authorities under federal law. In addition to federal laws, service members on federal duty are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice has the following maximum punishments: •

  • Possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana — dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for five years
  • Possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana — dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for two years
  • Possession with intent to distribute, growing, importing or exporting marijuana — dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for 15 years

Even if the Uniform Code of Military Justice doesn’t apply to you, if you test positive for marijuana through a military drug test, your commander — depending on service branch — will or can initiate a separation action to remove you from service and may refer you for rehabilitative treatment.