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  • Writer's pictureAshley Lansdown

Did You "Pop" On A Military Drug Test? Here's What You Can Expect.


Testing positive for drugs when you're in the military is a whole different story than if you are a civilian. The military takes positive tests or "pops" very seriously. A positive drug test can impact your military career and may even result in court-martial charges. All branches of the armed forces have a "zero tolerance" policy for drug offenses.


The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) prohibits the use, possession, and distribution of controlled substances. You do not even have to be on active duty to face punishment. Several circumstances can trigger a military drug case, including the following:

  • Testing positive for an illicit substance

  • Refusing to supply a requested drug sample

  • Tampering with a drug test

  • Getting cause in possession of illicit drugs

  • Getting cause in possession of certain banned drug-related paraphernalia, and

  • Distributing drugs in any manner, either through sale, trafficking, or cultivation.

Six types of cases for drug use can be brought under Article 112(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice including:

  • Possession with intent to distribute

  • Wrongful use

  • Wrongful distribution

  • Wrongful introduction, with intent to distribute

  • Wrongful manufacture, with intent to distribute, and

  • Wrongful exportation or importation.

Any of these charges bring with it harsh penalties. This can include dishonorable discharges and prison time. Unlike civilian drug use cases, the military can punish a service member with prison time, and separation from the military and their entire career. Since the military is officially its own jurisdiction, it can sentence members of the military to punishments from administrative sanctions, to court-martials, or to prison time.


What are the possible outcomes?

  • Navy/Marine Corps members will typically face Mast/NJP and then an administrative discharge proceeding.

  • Army and Coast Guard members of all ranks will often face Non-judicial punishment pursuant to Article 15 and an administrative discharge.

  • Air Force members who test positive for cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, ecstasy (MDMA), or other “hard” drugs and are NCOs or officers will likely face a court-martial.

  • Airmen who test positive for marijuana or who are lower ranking enlisted members will most often face Nonjudicial punishment pursuant to Article 15 and discharge.

Can You Save Your Military Career?


Yes. A positive drug test does not mean that your military career is necessarily over; you have rights and options. A few of the common paths to saving your career are:

  1. FIRST TIME OFFENDERS who knowingly used drugs and have already confessed: Your best option is to prove to your chain of command that you meet the retention criteria. To meet the criteria, you will need to prove (among other things) that it:

  • was an experimental (one time thing) drug use

  • was a complete deviation from normal behavior

  • will not happen again

  • the military interest is best served by retaining you based on your past service and future potential

  1. DRUG TEST ERROR: Demonstrate that there was an error in the drug testing process. Errors do happen in the collection of urine samples. These errors can result in mislabeling or a false positive. In the last few years, multiple errors were made by the Navy lab at Great Lakes. This resulted in samples being wrongfully reported as positive. Every positive test result should be carefully reviewed by an experienced attorney to identify potential errors.

  2. ACCIDENTAL DRUG INGESTION: If you believe you may have accidentally ingested the drug, then you may be able to save your career by raising the defense of innocent ingestion or unknowing ingestion. Innocent ingestion occurs when a military member eats, drinks, or smokes something and is not aware that it contains a controlled substance. Unknowing ingestion is where a military member does not know the potential source of the drugs in their system but argues that they did not intentionally use any illegal substance. Both of these defenses can be successful if the military member and their attorney presents a strong case that is consistent with current research and the levels of drugs are consistent with accidental or unknowing exposure. Many times, it can be demonstrated that the source of the drugs was cough syrup, brownies, cigarettes, and beer.

What Should You Do If You Test Positive?


Military members who test positive on a drug test should make sure that they understand their rights. You have the right to remain silent, the right to consult with counsel of your choosing, and the right to fight to save your career throughout an investigation, Mast, NJP, court-martial, or discharge proceedings.


Do not lose hope throughout this process. Although a positive drug test can mean the end of your career, it does not have to! With the right approach and the right legal guidance, you will have the opportunity to defend yourself. You can overcome a positive urinalysis test and continue defending our country.


Get Help.


The Law Office of Ashley Lansdown is here for you. If you or someone close to you has tested positive on a military drug test, call, email, or send in a Contact form today to schedule a free consultation.



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