Drug use continues to be a hot topic for security clearance applicants. Young people considering military service or government internships frequently ask the question – will recreational drug use impact my ability to obtain a security clearance? Now there is a new question to add – will legalized drug use prohibit me from obtaining a security clearance?

Washington and Colorado are making headlines in 2014 as they implement legalized marijuana use, in response to a vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of marijuana.

Colorado became the first state to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use in January. Washington’s law decriminalizes possession for those over 21, but it is still illegal to buy marijuana in the state. Twenty states, including Washington, D.C., allow for medicinal usage of marijuana. Several states, including California, Florida, and D.C., are considering ballot initiatives to follow in Colorado and Washington’s footsteps, opening the door for even more widespread recreational marijuana use.

The kicker? The sale, possession and use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Head of the DEA Michelle Leonhart continues to speak out against the legalization of marijuana. While the current political and public opinion shift continues to be toward legalization, it’s critical to note that smoking marijuana, buying it, or possessing it still violates federal law.


Both Colorado and Washington have a military presence and a significant defense industrial base. Joint Base Lewis-McCord is located outside of Seattle. The region is home to significant aerospace business, as well as two local naval installations.

Defense and aerospace generate $2.8 billion in revenue in Colorado, which is home to several military installations. If you’re benefitting from that revenue, the simple advice is to steer clear of legalized marijuana.


This spring OPM updated Section 23 ‘Illegal Use of Drugs and Drug Activity.’ The new instructions clarify that security clearance applicants must list any drug use on their SF-86, including legalized medicinal or recreational use of drugs.

The changes not only include the recreational legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, but also address the legalization of marijuana for medical use, which also remains illegal under federal law.


Let’s just assume you’re smart enough to accept that using recreational drugs is a bad idea if you have or would like to get a security clearance. Beyond that, legalization has other impacts. Keep in mind that the company you keep will be important in your security clearance investigation. For a public trust or secret security clearance, your investigation won’t dig much beyond your legal and credit background and listed references. But if you are obtaining a top secret security clearance, investigators will need to speak with you, as well as your friends. If that circle is exclusive to Breckenridge and you’ve spent a lot of time with a contact high, your chance of obtaining a security clearance isn’t impossible, but it’s difficult. Whether they’re college friends or relatives, if your inner circle includes frequent drug users you’ll want to outline that relationship and consider separating yourself from it.

As an anecdote, we recently heard from a defense industry recruiter in the Colorado Springs area. A contractor at a local military base was heading into work one morning and drew the lucky number for a random vehicle inspection. Unfortunately for him, he’d forgotten the marijuana a friend had left in his car over the weekend. He absolutely lost his job, and his chances of keeping his clearance are doubtful (his ‘absentmindedness’ is not going to play well as he looks to find another cleared position).

Societal shifts do have an impact on the security clearance process. Due to the stigma of obtaining mental health counseling, the SF-86 has been changed to allow individuals to omit sexual assault or combat stress related counseling. It may seem the tide is turning toward acceptance of drug use, but not with Uncle Sam, just yet. Be smart, and leave the Mary Jane behind if you’re interested in a clearance.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer