Army soldiers aren’t allowed to use hemp-derived CBD even if its federally legal—but the military branch is now asking for information about using hemp yarn in uniforms to help camouflage snipers.
In a request for information (RFI) posted last week, the Army said that it’s interested in exploring alternative materials to improve uniforms used by snipers to hide from enemy combatants in close proximity. Hemp and jute are among the materials that it thinks could support the “Operational Clothing and Individual for the Improved Ghillie System (IGS).”
“Interest is specifically in a yarn/twine/thread used to break up the Snipers outline made from Jute, Hemp or similar natural fiber,” the notice says.
The Army’s Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment division is “seeking approximately a 48 lb Jute Count, 3 ply, Jute, Hemp or similar natural fiber, yarn/twine in a natural color,” it continues. “The current demand for the Jute/Hemp yarn is 400,000 yards.”
“The IGS is a new and improved Sniper concealment system developed to meet the concealment needs of the Sniper community. The IGS shall have amendable camouflage materials (e.g. jute, hemp, or similar natural fiber) that can be used to change the appearance of the sniper. The IGS Jute, Hemp or other natural fiber will help conceal the Sniper and Scout during missions allowing them to remain undetected within close proximity of the enemy forces.”
Hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. And while many have come to associate the crop with its derivatives like CBD oil, there’s growing interest in its other industrial applications, especially given its unique durability, versatility and low environmental impact. Businesses have been marketing everything from hemp fabric in clothing to hemp concrete for buildings.
Now the Army wants to see whether the crop has potential to better camouflage its snipers. The RFI says that hemp yarn can be spun domestically or imported from other countries, unlike jute which needs to be spun in the U.S. even if the fiber comes from a foreign source.
“The material shall not present a health hazard to the Soldier and must show compatibility with prolonged, direct skin contact,” it says. Also, the material cannot “add significant amount of weight” to the uniforms. Responses to the RFI are due by July 27.
House Appropriations Committee have also recently identified the potential of the cannabis crop as a cost-effective alternative to plastics, including language in three recent spending bill reports that encourage research into using domestically grown hemp to reduce dependence on plastic imported from China, for example.
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and member of the Appropriations Committee, is spearheading that initiative.
Separately, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded funds to researchers to develop 3D-printed hempcrete to be used in building affordable housing.
DOE is also sponsoring a project to develop hemp fiber insulation that’s designed to be better for the environment and public health than conventional preparations are, the agency announced late last year.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also announced last year that it was awarding a Washington State-based company a $100,000 grant to support the development of sustainable bricks made from industrial hemp.
But when it comes to hemp and the military, the Department of Defense (DOD) and various branches under the agency have made clear that there’s one use that’s off limits to service members: consuming hemp-derived CBD products.
In 2019, DOD announced the policy barring all active and reserve service members from using hemp products, including CBD. DOD more broadly reaffirmed that CBD is off limits to service members in earlier notices published in 2020.
About one year after hemp was federally legalized, the Air Force sent out a notice that similarly warned against using CBD products that are commonly found on the market. A Massachusetts base of the Air Force told pilots last year that they could face disciplinary action for possessing any type of hemp product, even if it’s “for your pet.”
Officials with the military branch also said the previous year that it wants its members to be extra careful around “grandma’s miracle sticky buns” that might contain marijuana.
The Navy, for its part, issued an initial notice in 2018 informing ranks that they’re barred from using CBD and hemp products no matter their legality. Then in 2020 it released an update explaining why it enacted the rule change.
The Naval War College has gone so far as to warn Sailors and Marines about new hemp products on the market, issuing a notice earlier this month that says members can drink a new Pepsi-owned Rockstar energy drink that contains hemp seed oil.
The Coast Guard said that sailors can’t use marijuana or visit state-legal dispensaries.
A factor that may have influenced these policy updates is that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released guidance to federal agency drug program coordinators in 2019 that outlined concerns about THC turning up in CBD products and causing failed drug tests. The agency issued an updated warning in 2020 after several more states voted to legalize marijuana.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has separately faced criticism over its stance on cannabis issues.
In March, for example, VA made clear that it won’t provide support for treatment involving marijuana as part of a new grants program aimed at preventing veteran suicide.
VA’s position on marijuana has been a source of consistent frustration for advocates and veteran service organizations who have been pushing for expanded research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis.
House and Senate committees held joint hearings in March to hear from veterans service organizations (VSOs) about how Congress and the federal government can better serve their constituents, and several of the groups brought up the need to ease restrictions on marijuana.
The testimony echoes what the VSOs have repeatedly raised with lawmakers. The specifics ranged in scope between the various groups, but the overall message was made clear: military veterans uniquely stand to benefit from marijuana treatment and it’s time for Congress to do something about it.
Separately, military veterans would be “encouraged” to discuss medical marijuana treatment without the fear of losing federal benefits under a recent bill being sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). The main thrust of the legislation is to codify existing policies that allow VA doctors to talk about medical cannabis with patients as well as protections for veterans who are candid about their history with marijuana treatment. By doing so, it would enshrine these polices into law so that they could not later be changed administratively by future VA leaders.
Meanwhile, a key House committee approved two amendments to a must-pass defense spending bill last month that deal with marijuana- related issues in the armed services.
Both measures cleared the House Armed Services Committee on voice votes during a markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The first, from Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), concerns cannabis sentencing standards under military code. The other from Moulton calls for a DOD-led study into the medical efficacy of cannabis over opioids for certain conditions.
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