Members of the Navy have been warned that they will receive a positive drug test result if they consume a new PepsiCo energy drink called Rockstar Unplugged, which contains hemp seed oil. The Naval War College’s (NWC) Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor issued a strangely specific advisory stating that the drink was off-limits for service members.
Hemp was legalized on the federal level in 2018 and is now available in supermarkets and convenience stores across the nation. Countless products contain CBD derived from cannabis or hemp, from sodas to teas to energy drinks. CBD is non-psychoactive and does not produce a “high.” The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, remains illegal at the federal level, though many states have moved toward legalization or decriminalization in recent years.
Even though cannabis and hemp-derived CBD is non-intoxicating, various military branches have prohibited service members from partaking in these products. In the most recent advisory, the Navy has gone further by singling out a specific product that Sailors are not permitted to consume while reemphasizing the military’s hardline stance on cannabis-related products.
Why Has the Navy Taken a Stance Against Rockstar Unplugged?
The reasons for this hardline stance against Pepsi’s new product are somewhat dubious. The Navy and other military branches have stressed that even though federal law allows for the legal use and possession of hemp products, the marketing of hemp products is not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
As a result, the military argues, products containing hemp could potentially be mislabeled, and service members could inadvertently consume discernible amounts of THC. Sailors who test positive for THC can receive an “other than honorable” discharge from the armed forces, which could have long-lasting consequences. They may not be able to obtain veterans’ benefits, and they might have difficulty securing employment.
However, hemp seed oil, which is not psychoactive, barely contains any CBD at all, much less THC, casting serious doubt on the notion that consuming the hemp seed oil in the Rockstar Unplugged beverage could result in a positive drug test.
One would also think that a multi-billion dollar company like PepsiCo would have considered the implications of their product concerning drug tests. Workers in many fields regularly undergo drug testing, from transportation to construction to hospitality. There is little doubt that PepsiCo would put a product on the market that had the potential to turn up a positive drug test and potentially cause a worker to lose their job and livelihood. To allege that the hemp seed oil contained in Rockstar Unplugged would “definitely” cause a service member to test positive for drugs is a questionable claim to make.
Military Branches and Hemp
Regardless of the military’s perspective on the issue, they have been consistent in their stance against CBD and hemp-related products. However, some advisories have been more curious than others have. In May 2021, the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command tweeted that even possessing CBD or hemp-related products for a pet is against the law for military members. They also reminded service members that they cannot bring skin and hair care products containing hemp and CBD into a federal installation.
After the Farm Bill officially legalized hemp in the United States, the Navy officially established a “zero-tolerance” drug policy back in 2018. You can read the Navy’s official policy on hemp here. Essentially, the Navy banned Sailors and Marines from knowingly using any hemp product, including CBD. Even if a hemp product claims to have no traceable amounts of THC, the Navy’s policy forbade service members from using it.
Interestingly, the Navy’s policy made an exception for topical products containing hemp or CBD, such as “shampoos, conditioners, lotions, or soaps.” Specific FDA-approved drugs that contain CBD were also not banned. However, that guidance was later reversed in 2020, and today topical hemp products are forbidden for Sailors and Marines.
In September 2020, the Navy actually explained why they decided to prohibit topical hemp and CBD products. They defended their stance by citing the fact that the FDA does not currently regulate hemp and CBD product marketing and claimed that it is impossible to know if hemp products contain THC, nor how much THC they may contain, due to a lack of proper labeling.
Still, the Navy has been mostly consistent with its messaging on the issue. The core issue for the Navy and other military branches seems to be the lack of federal regulation. They have regularly reminded service members that the use and possession of products derived from hemp or cannabis are unlawful.
Other branches of government have enacted similar regulations. In addition to the Air Force and the Navy, the Coast Guard prohibited its Sailors from using marijuana or visiting dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal for civilians. NASA, a non-military government agency, also warned employees that the use of CBD products containing THC could lead to termination. And in 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) broadly banned the use of CBD and hemp-related products (again, despite the Farm Bill).
These recent regulatory updates may result from an advisory that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued to federal drug program coordinators in 2019. The guidance warned about the potential for THC to show up in hemp products, leading federal workers and service members to test positive for illegal drugs.
Even when Virginia, where many federal employees live and work, legalized marijuana in 2020, SAMHSA reiterated that government workers were still banned from using marijuana products in the state.
However, there is a glimmer of hope for policy change on the horizon. In 2021, the House Appropriations Committee approved a report calling on government agencies to reassess policies requiring federal workers to be fired if they test positive for marijuana and plainly state how marijuana use impacts government employment. In fact, a directive included in the report clearly expresses support for the belief that having used marijuana products in the past should not prevent someone from working for the U.S. government.
As the cannabis movement expands across the country, you can stay up-to-date with all the latest cannabis news right here at Cannabutter Digest. And while you’re here, feel free to check out some of our delicious cannabis-inspired recipes and discover the latest cannabis products to hit the market.