Letter: Pot shops off limits to military members

OLYMPIA — Dozens of recreational marijuana businesses in Washington state have been sent letters from the military saying the shops are off limits to all members of the armed forces, an official said Tuesday.

The letters, dated Jan. 21, say military personnel will be indefinitely prohibited from entering such a business unless its owner agrees to stop selling substances similar to marijuana.

A total of 86 letters have been sent to businesses with licenses to sell recreational marijuana under voter-approved Initiative 502, said Joe Kubistek, a spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“Despite the passage of Initiative 502, the use, possession, manufacture, or distribution of marijuana remains illegal for all service members, at all times and locations,” Kubistek said in an email.

Hilary Bricken, a Seattle attorney, said two of the marijuana businesses she represents had received the letters. She said the shops have no responsibility to inquire about the military status of their customers, but noted that some operators were concerned about repercussions if they don’t respond.

“The Army is totally powerless to do anything to these businesses, but that doesn’t stop my clients from freaking out,” she said.

Kubistek stressed that letter is a courtesy notification to the businesses, not a demand.

“The Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board recognizes these businesses were established for the purpose of selling and distributing marijuana, within state guidelines, and had no intention of interfering with their business operations,” he wrote.

The letter states that shops have 30 days to prevent evidence to the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board at Joint Base Lewis-McChord — which oversees military personnel in the region — that the businesses agree to stop selling the substances to military personnel.

However, Kubistek noted that the letters are similar to ones the military is required to send to any businesses deemed to be harmful to members of the military, and that the onus is on military members to know they should not to go there, not for shops to be required to determine whether their customers are military or not.

A list of off-limit businesses on the base’s website range from a payday lending office in Bremerton to a nightclub in Federal Way.

Kubistek said notification letters are sent to businesses when the board determines that certain conditions exist involving such things as drugs, prostitution, discriminatory practices, or liquor violations like serving people who are underage.

“The intention of that notice or timeframe is to give them the opportunity to rebut the off-limits designation, if they want to,” Kubistek said during a phone interview.

The same protocol exists for pot shops because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

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