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Navy ramps up its regulation of CBD products

If it puts the CBD lotion on its skin, it gets reduced in rank again.

That’s the message the Navy wants to make abundantly clear after the service released updated guidance on the use of hemp and cannabidiol, or CBD.

The new policy comes with a ban on products such as lotions, shampoos, soaps, and lip balms, according to a Navy release, after the service’s previous policy concerning CBD, announced in August 2019, did “not apply to the use of topical products.”

The update signals yet another step the service is taking to try and eliminate the possibility of sailor exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which the service says “could negatively impact mission readiness and disqualify a sailor from continued service.”

Navy officials once more cited the potential inaccuracy of CBD product labels as a reason for the ban, pointing at the chemical’s legalization by the Food and Drug Administration as a potential for label complacency.

“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,” Navy Secretary Kenneth J. Braithwaite said in the corresponding NAVADMIN.

While current federal guidelines allow for legalized use of CBD products that contain a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent, the Navy’s updated policy aims to eliminate any gray areas by banning all products that could yield a surprise for sailors when the time comes to take a urinalysis test.

“This really is about the health of the force and ensuring the Navy remains a drug-free workplace,” LA Parker, the Drug Detection & Deterrence branch head for the 21st Century Sailor office, said in the release.

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The service says the products

Navy OKs CBD Use — Provided It’s Topical And Has Less Than .3% THC

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Photo by Eric Risberg / AP

Above: In this photo taken Thursday, March 21, 2019, Gus Dabais stands outside his Sidewalk Wellness store in San Francisco. CBD oil-infused food, drinks and dietary supplements are popular even though the U.S. government says they’re illegal and some local authorities have forced retailers to pull products.

The Navy is offering new guidance on products containing the active ingredient in marijuana, after a change in the law makes some products containing CBD legal under federal law.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer released new guidance for cannabidiol, or CBD, on Aug. 18, after the latest federal farm bill legalized products made from hemp-based CBD, back in December.

Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

“Currently, we do have an influx of products coming out right now and we just want to make sure they are informed and they’re safe,” said Selle Butler, a chemist with the Navy Personnel Command, which oversees drug testing.

It is still against Navy regulations to ingest CBD or use products designed to penetrate the skin, like patches. CBD creams are now OK, provided they contain .3% or less of THC — the ingredient associated with the high produced by consuming marijuana products, she said.

That caveat may open up a legal gray area in the Navy’s zero-tolerance policy, according to Jeff Carver, an attorney who represents military clients in San Diego, including those who fail a Navy drug test.

“Even different products are OK provided that it’s cream for the skin,” Carver said. “Shampoo for the hair — if it’s below .3%. That might pass. Well, that’s dangerous.”

The confusing language may make it tougher for the Navy to enforce its zero-tolerance policy for products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The new guidance came out Aug. 19. Carver hasn’t had a client claim that he tested positive because he used a topical cream. His advice to Navy personnel is to steer clear of any CBD product that doesn’t require a prescription.

The Navy has no evidence that using the topical CBD creams with less than .3% THC will cause a sailor to fail a drug test, Butler said.

Using marijuana remains strictly against Navy regulations. The other services have similar prohibitions, as marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The latest farm bill makes a distinction between CBD derived from hemp and products derived from marijuana, which has a higher level of THC.

As a sign of how quickly the thought on CBD is evolving, in November the public affairs staff for aircraft carrier USS George Washington sent out a release with the alarming headline “Cannabidiol: Don’t Do It!”

The release warned sailors that there is no medical use for CBD, contradicting the Food and Drug Administration. Last year, the FDA approved the first medication containing CBD, Epidiolex, which is used to control epilepsy.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

I cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

Questions linger over whether the rules open the door to challenge the Navy's zero-tolerance policy regarding THC, as the Navy reacts to the federal government allowing hemp-based CBD products.