Don’t Let Your Security Clearance Go Up In Smoke

The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington brings vindication to resident pot smokers, but marijuana use won’t do you any favors if you’re trying to obtain a government or military security clearance.

For those who are curious about the ramifications of legal marijuana use on the likelihood of gaining security clearance approval, we present you with Guideline H: Drug Involvement.

Guideline H in the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information specifies the conditions where drug use could deny an individual a security clearance or mitigate security clearance concerns. The guideline refers to the federal government’s Controlled Substance Act of 1970 when identifying what substances are recognized as “drugs” and what defines abuse. The legal or illegal use of marijuana in a manner that strays from approved medical direction is considered drug abuse.

In security clearance cases, federal law trumps all, says renowned security clearance attorney John Griffith. Although some states are reevaluating their stance on marijuana use, adjudicators are going to abide by federal law, which states marijuana is illegal.


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Griffith recently had a case where his client admitted to having used marijuana while on a trip to Amsterdam.

“He thought that because it was legal in Amsterdam to smoke marijuana that he was OK to do it,” Griffith says. “Unfortunately, the administrative judge found that the drug use displayed poor judgment and he lost his clearance. It will be interesting to see how the evolution of marijuana laws influence the national security arena.”

For now, Griffith encourages residents of Colorado and Washington attempting to obtain a security clearance to stay away from even small, legal amounts of marijuana. When petitioning for clearance, applicants must be forthright about their experiences with legal marijuana.

“When filling out the standard form questionnaire for national security positions, you’ll have to disclose if you, by federal government standards, illegally used a controlled substance in the last seven years,” Griffith says. “If you have, it’s going to reflect poorly on your eligibility. You will have an opportunity to explain your circumstance, however.”

Say an applicant legally used marijuana in their state but was not aware of the security clearance implications. The applicant can detail the context of the drug use during their subject interview with an investigator. Adjudicators will take note of the situation surrounding the drug use. This explanation could reduce security clearance concerns, since Guideline H states a “demonstrated intent not to abuse any drugs in the future” could be grounds for mitigation.

“In some cases, an applicant may gain security clearance by signing a statement of intent that includes an automatic revocation of clearance for any drug violation,” says Griffith.

If you are applying for security clearance and would like assistance with the process, please contact our office to schedule an appointment.

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