Listing Prior Drug Use on Your Security Clearance Application

Security Clearance

One of the more frequent questions for recent graduates who consider a cleared career is – how much space do I need to place between my clearance application and prior drug use? Over at the ClearanceJobsBlog forum a comment asks:

I just graduated in Electrical Engineering in July 2016, and I just started working a few weeks ago at a defense contractor. I need to get a security clearance which could probably take several months. The job clearly states that I need to be able to obtain a security clearance. They didn’t really specify any deadline for it. Right now I’m just working on uncleared stuff involving hardware engineering. I’m done filling out the E-QIP and will be turning it in soon.

My problem is I’ve used marijuana plenty of times in college, probably 15 to 20 times, spanning from 2010 to 2015. Most of it is spanning from 2010 to 2014 at random times. I smoked once in September 2015. I’ve also tried ecstasy in 2013 at a rave. I’ve been clean since September 2015. The rest of the form was a breeze to fill out. No arrests/foreign affiliations/etc.

…I wrote all of this on my online form except much more detailed. I don’t know if my detailed explanation is too much though. I feel like my truthfulness is going to hurt me…

When it comes to any issues on a security clearance application, the answers are subjective – because the adjudication is subjective. Adjudicators are asked to consider the ‘whole-person.’ So, while two years from last use is a general ‘guideline’ many security officers give, there are no hard and fast rules – as long as the drug use isn’t ongoing.

The applicant is also concerned he was perhaps too detailed in the responses he provided on his application. This can be an issue for some applicants. Erring on the side of truthfulness is always the best path. But listing each specific instance of drug use on an application may be making a bigger issue of a small problem.

The best advice is to mitigate any potential issues by demonstrating steps you’ve taken to separate yourself from prior use. For the case of college experimentation, the fact that you’ve left school and are attempting to gain employment with the federal government is a good sign.

See more questions or chime in on the forum.

Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.