Pentagon allays fears about local marijuana

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Colorado Springs business leaders and retired generals have been waging a public-relations campaign, suggesting the military might cut back assets here if City Council doesn’t ban retail sales of marijuana, now permitted under Amendment 64.

That’s news to the Pentagon.

pentagon2“I wouldn’t think so,” said Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Crosson. “Military personnel are still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which clearly prohibits marijuana use. They can’t use it, and we all get drug tested.

“But we won’t move assets out of states where it is legal now.”

Marijuana’s never been hard to buy, Crosson said, and the military has soldiers stationed in parts of the globe where it’s legal.

“An example is the Netherlands,” he said. “Marijuana is legal in that country. We have service members stationed in Germany and Belgium. They can go to the Netherlands on leave. They can’t smoke marijuana. In our case, it simply isn’t, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ The UCMJ covers that.”

The Pentagon isn’t worried about legalized marijuana because of the zero-tolerance policy in place since the Reagan administration, Crosson said. The military has a random system for testing individuals.

“It’s not like you can game the system,” he said. “You have two hours’ notice, sometimes less, and you’re monitored during the testing. You never know when the testing is going to come. It’s not like they check to see how long it’s been. … We test every single day.”

Local business leaders admit no one has confirmed their concerns that the military will depart or cut troops in the Springs if retail sales are available. Still, the fear — and the public push — remain.

“As a retailer, I’m concerned,” said Mike Jorgensen, president and partner of Red Noland Cadillac and president of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. “It puts a pit in my stomach. If it were legal everywhere, then there’d be a level playing field. But it’s always the first whale out that gets harpooned.”

Jorgensen said that being on the “leading edge” of legalization is scary for businesses, because they aren’t certain what could happen.

“The Pentagon could say, ‘We don’t have this problem in Texas, let’s move the soldiers there,’” he said. “It’s so controversial still, outside the area. And while no one said this will happen, the concern is there.”

That uncertainty is behind the recent campaign to ban retail sales. Recreational use by anyone 21 and older is allowed under Amendment 64, and a retail ban won’t change that — or the option to obtain medical marijuana.

Nonprofit leaders have joined the charge. Terrance McWilliams, director of military and veterans affairs at El Pomar Foundation, told a crowd at a recent Fort Carson town hall that approving retail sales of marijuana would put the area’s military assets in jeopardy.

“It’s a serious issue,” he said. “And I’d encourage all of you to call City Council to encourage them to ban it. When the BRAC round comes, it could be a deciding factor. The active duty guys won’t tell you, so I’m telling you. It’s a threat to discipline and order.”

But it takes an act of Congress to close a military base, and it’s only done after years of study, community input and Pentagon recommendations. Known as the Base Realignment and Closure process, the next round was originally scheduled for 2015. But Congress is showing little appetite for closing military bases when the DoD is also drawing down its forces.

The House Armed Services readiness subcommittee recently turned down a White House proposal to start BRAC. Officials said there was too much uncertainty about the size of the military and the outcome in Afghanistan to spend the requested $2.4 billion during a five-year period to close bases.

“It’s premature to expend dollars we don’t have to fix a problem we’re not sure exists,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Robert Wittman, a Virginia Republican, in an Associated Press story. “Strategy, not budgets, should drive national security decisions and I won’t support a reduction in our infrastructure until I’m confident our nation’s readiness, and our military, won’t suffer.”

Washington state legalized recreational marijuana use at the same time as Colorado. But there’s little furor there about losing its military assets, which includes Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, with its 25,000 military personnel and civilian workers.

“No, I’ve not even heard the possibility discussed,” said Gary Brackett, business and political manager at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce. “Our state’s in the middle of rule-making right now, but we haven’t heard this particular concern. I don’t even know where that concern would come from. It’s already considered a legitimate business here, since the initiative passed.”

No stigma in Washington

That “legitimate business” status in Washington apparently gives potential marijuana companies a voice in the business community. Tacoma’s chamber membership includes medical marijuana dispensaries, and once the state is finished making rules for retail sales, Brackett says he expects some of those businesses will join the chamber as well.

“As legitimate businesses, they have a right to belong to the local chamber,” he said. “It would be difficult to find a reason to turn them down.”

Here, the Business Alliance doesn’t follow that philosophy. It has no member/investors that are medical marijuana dispensaries. As the group leading the charge to ban retail sales, it’s unlikely they’d allow retail facilities.

The alliance believes that the defense, nonprofit and tourism industry sectors will be affected because of legalization — to the tune of about $14 billion.

“It is particularly important to note the significant and serious concerns the Department of Defense has with the ramifications of Amendment 64 to our military population, defense contractors and future decisions on where to place valuable economic assets that can be located in other communities and other states across our country,” the alliance said in a letter to City Council.

There’s little evidence to support that concern. In fact, several of the city’s largest defense companies had nothing but praise for Colorado Springs during a recent meeting at the Space Foundation of aerospace executives, Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Mike Coffman.

Marijuana was conspicuously absent from the agenda. Instead, every speaker spoke glowingly of their Colorado Springs operations.

“We’re looking to grow our presence here,” said Lori Thompson, vice president strategic planning and innovation for ITT Exelis Information Systems.

Russ Anarde, a retired Air Force brigadier general who heads Northrop Grumman’s local operations, also praised Colorado Springs, saying, “We have more than 1,000 employees here, and we’re very satisfied with the city. Our local economic impact is more than $100 million.”

Representatives of Ball Aerospace, Honeywell and Braxton Technologies also spoke optimistically of Colorado’s business climate.

“When we acquired the company and moved it to Colorado Springs,” said Braxton CEO Kevin O’Neil, “we had 25 employees. Today we have 138, and we plan to stay here and continue to grow.”

Other viewpoints

By contrast, Rep. Doug Lamborn hasn’t hesitated to express his opinion. In a June 2 local TV interview, Lamborn said, “I have the concern that if marijuana is freely available here in El Paso County, that could have a detrimental effect on the order and discipline of soldiers who are stationed at Fort Carson.” Catherine Mortensen, Lamborn’s press secretary, said he “hopes that local communities block the sale of marijuana.”

Asked whether the possible legalization of retail marijuana sales in Colorado Springs would affect their plans, Braxton’s O’Neil was unworried.

“I don’t think anything will change as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “I don’t see that it will have any effect.”

Honeywell senior marketing manager Eric Doremus had a slightly different take.

“(Legalization) may lead to a few individual tragedies,” he said, “where people just foolishly destroy their careers, but our policies won’t change. Our employees know what they are, and they know, for example, that if they’re involved in a work-related accident that the first thing we do is test for drugs, and a positive test can have very serious implications. But as far as our business plans are concerned, I don’t see any changes.”

That also seems to be the stance the Pentagon is taking.

“Service members who use marijuana know they’ll be punished,” Crosson said. “And it will affect their careers. We tell them that, repeatedly, no matter whether it’s legal in the state or not.”

CSBJ senior writer John Hazlehurst contributed to the reporting of this story.

13 Responses to Pentagon allays fears about local marijuana

  1. If Doug Bruce is for a ban on sales, then I must say I’m for it, just based upon that one fact. Anything Doug does or believes in has turned out badly for our state.

    Besides, our tourism numbers should IMPROVE with retail outlets. Believe it or not, a lot of the rest of America isn’t as backwards and ostrich-like as the business & political “leaders” here in the ‘Springs.

    June 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm

  2. Thanks to Amy G. for checking the facts and keeping our elected officials and prominent business leaders honest. As a retired military member and Colorado citizen, I find this type of blackmail appalling. These gentlemen throw around words like “may” and “could” when selling their bias against recreational marijuana to the community, in effect making half-truths fact. These are the same people who shout about less goverement, and then again threaten us with the loss of governement (Department of Defense)support if we don’t agree with the conformist view. Colorado Springs’ citizens will not be fooled. Colorado citizens have spoken on this issue, and locally elected officials in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people should remember such or face the consequences during our next election.

    Jimmy McDuggan
    June 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm

  3. The more our local anti-cannabis “business leaders” thump their chests in defiance of Amendment 64, the more attention is focused on a non-issue. Other states are soon to follow Washington and Colorado so it is only a matter of time before the playing field is leveled. Meanwhile, military personnel know full well they can be punished for consuming cannabis in violation of federal law.

    Mike Hunt
    June 6, 2013 at 2:20 pm

  4. John, I recommend a related article on the confusion over a state legalizing marijuana while federal law still prohibits it. I have heard the feds will not enforce marijuana prohibition laws in Colorado, but then we once again have selective application of law which never ends up well. In theory, I could do a citizen’s arrest when I see a violation of federal law and demand that local law enforcement apprehend ASAP. It seems to me, regardless of what the state has voted for, whether it agrees with federal law or not, and regardless of where anyone stands, we should be a law abiding state and enforce federal law. On this point alone, I do not believe El Paso County should approve any form of marijuana use lest we also become complicit in violating federal law. For the record, I am against legalization of marijuana for a multitude of reasons. The ultimate irony would be to have conservative El Paso county approva marijuana use and then have a liberal federal administration crack down us us. In theory at least, it could happen.

    Stan VanderWerf
    June 6, 2013 at 2:28 pm

  5. So basically a bunch of loons threw some absurd crap against the wall and surprisingly none of it stuck, good to know. Let’s not forget, the people have spoken on this issue, their decision is final. The reefer madness brigade of chimpanzees need to drop it and move onto another invisible bogeyman to cry wolf about. Perhaps they can warn us about building a new school, if we do that, aliens might invade!

    June 6, 2013 at 3:09 pm

  6. Mwenahwile these murderers at the pentagon can blow up the building and kill all the investigators working to reveal their billions in fraud. But we are interested in their thoughts on marijuana. Stupid.

    Tom Lazer
    June 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm

  7. I LOVE Stan’s scenario of a ‘liberal federal administration’ swooping in to crack down on marijuana sales in righteous, conservative El Paso County. Local Republican office holders and activists with their hair on fire: “OMG, we’re standing on the same side of the fence as Obama!” As a step closer to that amazing image alone, we must fight for our marijuana retail rights.

    Constance DeGood
    June 6, 2013 at 5:25 pm

  8. Abolition is a crime against humanity. History has proven it. Time to move into the 21st Century.

    If the Colorado Sprins City Council chooses to blatantly ignore the will of the voters, they can face the voters’ wrath come election day.

    Thomas Mc
    June 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

  9. So the truth comes out. Those of us who have been in the military and have had security clearances know that our elected officials (many who have never been in the military)and other “business leaders” (RBA) are projecting their own fears on a group of employees that have no desire to ruin their military careers and their chances of other government civilian employment just to partake in legalized marijuana. It would be nice if all of those retired military officers who talk in front of City Council would understand how offensive their lack of confidence appears.

    As someone who was stationed at Ft Lewis, I find it humorous that those in the state of Washington (much more forward-thinking, as a whole) have no issue with the fact that their voters made a decision to make marijuana legal. And their (very big) military presence does not seem to be concerned either. But those in power in Colorado Springs and El Paso County seem to know better, right? Because they just. must. save. us. from. ourselves.

    Yes, there is a conflict between federal and state law. Yes, instituting the regulations for retail sales and cultivation of marijuana is new, and hard, and complicated. Our elected officials chose their jobs. Now it’s time to do the hard stuff and deliver. There has yet to be an argument presented for opting out that holds any weight and is supported by facts. (or more weight than the fact that the voters chose this course). Businesses won’t move here? Tell us who. In fact, PLEASE tell us who wants to move here….I hope there is someone on that list, marijuana or not!

    The voters spoke pretty clearly. Yes, there is an opt-out provision in that vote. But I think it’s a pretty poor argument to use that the voters said “yes” to Amendment 64 because they knew there was an opt-out provision for their own municipality. I find it hard to believe that John Doe was sitting at his kitchen table with his ballot and said, “well, darn. I am going to vote for this Amendment 64 because I know my city can opt out of it. I am voting “yes” but only because of THAT clause.” Yeah….I don’t think so.

    It is time for our elected officials to stop trying to find ways out of this situation and instead to find ways to make a reality out of the desire of the voters. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The nanny state lost here. Opting out is not an opportunity to change that loss into a win using the “I know better than you” argument.

    Robin Roberts
    June 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm

  10. I say give them the same right as everyone one else. Military members are constantly put in war zone to defend this country, so i would think that if anything, they could use it as a stress reliever. i think they should loosen the UCMJ a little. Maybe state that the level of cannabis has to be below a certain level to be able to be considered functional to do your job. Just saying, it was ok for soildiers to use it prior to the reaghan administration and the wars that were fought prior to that were very brutal and the country still came out on top.

    June 6, 2013 at 10:51 pm

  11. I believe that the Tobacco Industry may be secretly motivating the Mayor to block Recreational Marijuana Shops from opening in Colorado Springs Springs. His election was assisted by Americans for Prosperity who is partly funded by the tobacco industry. I encourage all Citizens and local mainstream media to question the Mayor’s real motives as I have done.

    Ed Billings
    June 7, 2013 at 4:06 pm

  12. Ms. Roberts made relevant points: The Pentagon is not concerned. In a brief perusal of what data is available, I was unable to find any substantive information that allowing recreational use of marijuana is a cause for ‘companies not to consider a town for relocation’. The RBA was unable to provide back-up data for their statement on the issue. None. Which brings up the question: “How accurate is much of what we are being told?” Is their a need to build a much larger place at the table for the 18,000 (est) small businesses in the region to weigh in on important issues that will impact their business? And to have an instrument through which their voices on important issues could be heard? Would the majority of small business have agreed with the decisions reached by ‘big business’ ?

    Richard D Wehner
    June 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm

  13. “I believe that the Tobacco Industry may be secretly motivating the Mayor to block Recreational Marijuana Shops from opening in Colorado Springs Springs.”

    I’d more suspect that it would be the liquor pushers… uh, I mean industry. However, rather than any conspiracy, I suspect it’s more a case of an unjustified fear of “attracting the wrong people” with a harmless weed which makes its users happy and docile. This is a rather ironic position to take with liquor stores on nearly every other corner. If I had to choose, I’d _much_ rather be on the road with a stoned driver than a drunk one. And I’ve yet to hear of a guy beating his wife or kids while exclusively on pot; more like grabbing the bag of Cheetos from them. Perhaps we should ban liquor stores? Oh, wait, we tried that and it did nothing more than greatly strengthen organized crime… kinda’ like the war on pot has.

    Wake up and take financial advantage of the end of idiotic pot prohibition in Colorado. The world won’t fall apart any more than it did when they ended the prohibition of gays in the military.

    June 8, 2013 at 8:17 am