In theory, just about anything bad you do before or even while holding a security clearance can be mitigated, assuming it was a one-time offense or out of character action. But one illegal behavior that has proved very hard to mitigate is drug use while holding an active federal security clearance. It’s an issue growing in frequency with the increased number of states making marijuana legal. Legislation to make marijuana legal at the federal level would change all of that, but until the federal law changes, even one time use of marijuana while holding a security clearance is hard to mitigate. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done – particularly as cultural perceptions change – but for now, drug use is seen as a very visible disregard of government rules and procedures. So whether it’s a puff of smoke or an edible among friends, you’re best off to avoid partaking if you’d like to work for the government.

If you did drugs fairly recently, you may also assume your chances of obtaining a security clearance are tanked. A ClearanceJobs contributor recently forward two cases where an individual had done drugs fairly recently and was still able to obtain a security clearance:

Applicant used marijuana about 70 times over a five-year period. He also used psilocybin mushrooms a few times.  Applicant had abstained from drug use for 6 months (date of last use to date of hearing) when he was granted a clearance by DOHA. He submitted SF86 in June 2003, last used marijuana in April 2005, diagnosed substance dependent and completed rehab in July 2005; DOHA hearing in October 2005.  

A 27 year-old applicant smoked marijuana monthly until three months before he submitted his SF86. He also had an uncle in China. DSS granted him an interim Top Secret clearance. His interim Top Secret clearance was later withdrawn when he was issued a Statement of Reasons.  There was nothing in the SOR that wasn’t fully disclosed in the SF86. Based on a professionally prepared SOR response, DOHA withdrew the SOR and granted him a TS clearance. 

These examples just demonstrate that when it comes to security clearance issues – even something like recent drug use can be mitigated. Doing drugs while holding an active security clearance is a much bigger hurdle to leap – unless federal policy changes.

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