When an applicant for a security clearance is denied, the Department of Defense will issue a “statement of reasons” to the applicant advising him of the basis for the decision.  The applicant may then request a hearing for review of that decision, and, if still unsatisfied, appeal that determination.



In this case, the security clearance applicant was a 53-year-old man, working as a Senior Principal Engineer with a defense contractor.   In this role, he earned favorable performance evaluations and produced excellent work.   He was a husband and father of two children.

The applicant started using marijuana at the age of 11 or 12 years-old.  During high school he used marijuana several times a week, but decreased to several times a month thereafter.   In recent years, he testified to using marijuana with friends at social events and with his brother at holiday celebrations.  He stopped using it entirely in 2010.

The applicant failed to indicate his marijuana use on any of his security clearance applications, beginning in 1986.

During his most recent security investigation, he disclosed his drug activity.  With his admission, the applicant submitted a letter of intent not to abuse any illegal drugs in the future or be subject to an automatic clearance revocation.   


Clearance denied.  In this case, the applicant’s potential for impaired judgment was not as significant as his wholesale disregard for laws, rules, and regulations.  This defiance, however, damaged his perceived capacity for reliability and trustworthiness.

It is irrelevant that illegal drug use occurs outside work hours and does not affect work product.  “In the defense industry, the security of classified industrial secrets is entrusted to civilian workers who must be counted upon to safeguard such sensitive information twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week,” according to the court.

Years of stellar behavior isn’t always sufficient evidence (by itself) of rehabilitation.  The court found that more time in abstinence was required to demonstrate his adoption of a permanent, drug-free lifestyle.  Although the applicant hadn’t used marijuana for almost three years, the court reasoned that “given his past history, this conduct is likely to recur.”

Still, illegal drug use prior to the grant of a security clearance is not a per se disqualification.  Drug use from an applicant’s more distant past is need not necessarily be disclosed.  Question 24(a) on Standard Form 86 asks: “Since the age of 16 or in the last 7 years, whichever is shorter, have you illegally used any controlled substance….or prescription drugs?”

What else can a former illegal drug user do to demonstrate intent to avoid drugs in the future?  In this case, the applicant submitted a letter of intent to abstain from drugs, which is a suggested remedy listed in the statute.   Other supporting evidence includes:

  • dissociating from drug-using associates and contacts;
  • abstaining from drug use for an appropriate period of time;
  • completing of a prescribed drug treatment program, without recurrence of abuse, and a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified medical professional.
Read more about Legal Drug Use and Security Clearances.

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.

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