So, you’ve made through the application process and have been invited to the CIA for an in-person interview (pre-COVID, but let’s say virtual now)…but you have some dicey things in your past like former drug use.

A ClearanceJobsBlog subscriber was honest in his internship application and noted marijuana use that occurred 10 months prior:

Last time I used marijuana was 10 months ago. 2 months ago, I applied for CIA internship positions, even though I knew that they required at least 12 months since last drug use to even apply. In the application I made it very clear that I have not used any drugs within the last 10 months. I had very low expectations that I would get a response.

A week went by and I was asked to take an aptitude and personality test. I was surprised to hear back. I took the test and then heard silence for 2 months. 2 days ago, I got an email with an invitation to an interview. As happy as I may be to get this far into the application process, I am also confused and worried with what can come next. Does the recruitment center not take drug factor into consideration? Do they leave it up to the investigators to make a final decision? Would it be wise to decline going to the event if it can negatively impact future employment?


It would not be wise to dismiss the invitation. Even though what the original poster was filling out was an employment application and not an SF-86, they should still attend the interview they were invited to. They were honest about their drug use, and the recruiters still thought they were a qualified applicant. If the question comes up related to drug use and a background investigation, still answer with candor.

Following a positive CIA interview and a conditional offer of employment would most likely lead to the start of the security clearance process.


In the poster’s internship interview, it could be acceptable to ask about the former drug use and if it would hold up the background investigation process. However, recruiters do not have determination on suitability or security clearance adjudication. The recruiter may note they had not flagged the prior drug use, and may ask the applicant to reapply for an internship the next year. But it’s worth noting that if 12 months of abstinence is the requirement, there is a good chance that 12 months will have passed before the applicant faces a clearance adjudication – this is the kind of hair splitting that you shouldn’t bet your house on, but which has certainly helped applicants in the past. If the devil is in the details, make sure to keep track of your prior dates of drug use, amounts consumed, and steps you’ve taken to avoid drugs since.

The worst case scenario is that the CIA will deny this potential intern the position this time around and encourage them to apply again next year. Even if the security clearance moves forward and is ultimately denied (another worst case scenario), the applicant could still re-apply for a security cleared position or internship after a one-year break. At this point, any drug concerns would certainly be mitigated.


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 Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ 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! 🇺🇸