‘For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…’ Wedding vows are no joke, especially if your spouse is engaging in federally illegal activity while you want to obtain or already hold a security clearance. A majority of security clearance holders make the assumption that if they’re not one actually doing drugs, it’s totally fine to be a spectator. Unfortunately, being aware of illegal activity isn’t a spectator sport.

One clearance holder is worried that their spouse’s medicinal marijuana use will affect their security clearance. They reside in a state where medicinal and recreational use is legal, but it is administered at their home by a nurse while the clearance holder is present.


You are aware of the drug use, so as a security clearance holder, this is an issue and you must report this information to your Facility Security Officer (FSO). The issue is that you cohabitate or associate with a drug user. 

Under national security adjudicative guidelines, relatives or cohabitants currently living with you who are engaging in criminal activity can be hazardous to your ability to obtain or retain a clearance. If this seems harsh, take heart – security clearance determinations are made using the whole person concept, and as more states legalize recreational marijuana, more grace is being given for prior drug use or drug involvement.

One commenter on a previous thread on the ClearanceJobsBlog says: “The age old answer of “it depends” raises its head.”

You can’t necessarily control the conduct of others but condoning it or being in the midst of the illicit activity puts your clearance at risk. The commenter continues, “Are you willing to be scrutinized? Mitigation for past drug use is disassociating oneself with former friends who use…A person is known by the company they keep.”

Wedding vows don’t necessarily prepare you for this rock and a hard place in marriage. Now, after reporting this information to your security officer, it will have to be mitigated if you want to keep your clearance. The good news is in this specific case, if an individual’s spouse is using medicinal marijuana, it appears there are a number of mitigating factors at play. And if the marijuana is administered by someone else, the applicant is able to further separate themselves from the use. The ability to maintain a security clearance will likely come down to a battle of paperwork – the applicant will need to provide mitigating medical reasons for the marijuana use, and potentially take action to ensure he or she is not in the house while it’s being used. If those distinct steps can be taken, that may be enough to mitigate the potential issue.


If you have yet to apply for a security clearance and find yourself asking a similar question about your spouse, there are some things to think about. The SF-86 does mention spouses and they may be interviewed by a background investigator. It’s important for both the applicant and their spouse to be honest with the investigator.

There is a detailed Department of Energy (DOE) DOHA case where a contractor was denied her appeal requesting reinstatement of her clearance, ultimately being denied because of her son’s criminal activity that was unreported by the contractor, including drug use.


Illegal drug involvement can be mitigated if it is shown that the applicant is no longer involved with drugs, and it is highly probable that the applicant will not become involved with drugs in the future. No longer associating with drug users is often used as a mitigating criteria, but if the individual using is a spouse, and not an applicant, the big issue is whether or not the spouse’s drug use may in any way influence the clearance holder. An applicant should not worry that the government is going to go after a spouse for illegal activity.


While spousal marijuana use can be a policy gray area (like investments), the best advice from security clearance attorneys and experts is to tread lightly. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, despite states legalizing it.


Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 


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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸