The dictionary defines an ‘association’ as having a common interest or forming mental connections or bonds between ideas or memories. While the SEAD 4 adjudicative guidelines don’t explicitly define what an association with a person is, it comes down to common sense.

A subscriber to the ClearanceJobsBlog was concerned about his stoner friends and how they may affect his security clearance eligibility:

“I have read that anyone who has previously used illegal drugs cannot associate with drug users or with individuals with whom they have previously used drugs. How do you define an association? And is it a problem if you associate with someone with whom you have previously used drugs (10+ years ago) who also no longer uses drugs? This question is in reference to marijuana use only.”

It almost sounds like a rule out of a rehab clinic, but if someone is no longer using drugs (therefore not engaging in criminal activity) you’re most likely in the clear to associate with them in law abiding ways – especially if your shared drug habit was over a decade ago.


Adjudicative guidelines are used to decide if an individual is eligible for a security clearance. The government uses 13 adjudicative criteria to determine if you should obtain access to classified info. Although these judgments are made based on the ‘whole person concept,’ the two applicable adjudicative criteria for this case are Guidelines E and H.

Guideline E – Personal Conduct

Personal conduct is most frequently used against applicants who have falsified information on their SF-86, so be honest to the questions that are asked of you. Lying on this application is the easiest way to show your dishonesty and have your case denied. Don’t disclose unnecessary information or provide answers to questions that aren’t asked, but if you omit known drug use it could pop up later in your cleared career.

Guideline H – Drug Involvement

Drug involvement may be a bigger disqualifier as more and more states legalize marijuana with it still being federally illegal. But even frequent drug use can be mitigated with the passage of time. Under national security adjudicative guidelines, relatives or cohabitants living with you who are engaging in criminal activity can be hazardous to your ability to obtain or retain a clearance.


Illegal drug involvement can be mitigated if the applicant is no longer involved with drugs, and it is unlikely won’t be involved with them in the future. With the legalization of marijuana the separation between security clearance holders is more difficult to navigate. What if your cousin has a marijuana habit? Can you still hang out at Christmas? Absolutely – just leave the party if drugs become a part of the festivities. Disassociation may also look like informing friends that you can’t partake or be around drugs any more – ask them to respect your wishes, and don’t worry that the government will be concerned about their habits in the course of their investigations – the government is most interested in yours.

Other ways to mitigate personal conduct or drug involvement issues:

  • Make prompt, good-faith efforts to correct the omission, concealment, or falsification on the drug use questions on the SF-86 before being confronted with the facts.
  • Acknowledge your drug involvement, provide evidence of actions taken to overcome the issue, and establish a pattern of abstinence.
  • Disassociate from drug-using individuals and avoid environments where drugs are used.
  • Provide a signed statement of intent to abstain from drug involvement, acknowledging that any future involvement or misuse is grounds for security clearance revocation.

Even a chronic drug user can show that they have changed their ways. So be honest on your application, and stay off drugs, kids.


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! 🇺🇸