Note: This podcast was recorded BEFORE the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its updated guidance on drug usage for clearance applicants. Some information about drug abstinence minimums prior to application should be considered in light of that updated policy. While abstinence before application is still ideal, ODNI is emphasizing that past marijuana use should not preclude individuals from applying.

Cautions against current clearance holders abstaining from drug use while holding a security clearance are still absolutely relevant, and not impacted by ODNI’s policy.

The legalization of drug use in states across the country has created a minefield for security clearance applicants and holders. Even with ODNI’s updated guidance on recent drug use, issues remain for individuals who obtain a clearance and then slip up and find themselves partaking in a substance that is illegal at the federal level – and that will come up in a random drug test.

ClearanceJobs recently sat down with Kimberly Berlin, substance abuse counselor and owner of the Berlin Group LLC. She has worked with many security clearance holders and applicants who have faced drug use, as well as working with the federal government as it looks to determine if an individual has a drug problem. And despite the growing ‘normalization’ of marijuana in many communities, Berlin emphasizes that is not the case for those in national security careers.

“For persons with security clearances, and those applying. I’m seeing a lot more people with Statements of Reasons in states that have legalized marijuana using that rational – ‘oh, it’s legal,'” noted Berlin. But that argument does not necessarily work. And that’s born out in the slight uptick in security clearance denials and revocations in 2020 for drug involvement.

“If you use marijuana under any circumstance you are subject to having your security clearance denied, suspended, or revoked,” said Berlin.

Many individuals may assume that the growth in states legalizing marijuana would make individuals more likely to be able to keep or retain a clearance with a momentary lapse in judgment of using a banned product. But Berlin emphasizes that clearance holders are held accountable for reading the guidelines for security clearance holders – and should do so.

“Gummies, vapes, edibles, pipes joints – it’s all the same – it’s all illegal at the federal level,” said Berlin. “It says any drug use – and they mean it.”

The other issue that may tempt clearance holders or applicants is simply to lie about drug use. But while drug use can be mitigated, lying is often impossible to overcome.

“You can’t mitigate lying…you will get caught in a lie,” cautions Berlin. “Your character and conduct will come into question. Better to tell the truth, come clean, and deal with those consequences.”

Other Clearance Hot Topics:

Berlin noted several other trends she’s seeing in security clearance denials and revocations today:

  1. CBD products – Despite proven benefits, Berlin has seen even cancer patients test positive for THC due to a CBD product they had consumed. It lives in the liver and hair follicles for months, she notes, and no matter how beneficial you may find the product, if it contains THC, you should just say no.
  2. Alcohol use – Berlin has seen even a single DUI result in security clearance revocation. If a DUI signals a pattern of behavior that is concerning, in a world where ride sharing is available at a click, don’t take a chance drinking and driving.
  3. Sexual behavior clearance denials – from porn on a government computer to Tinder on your workplace phone, Berlin cautions clearance applicants to avoid anything at all sexual in nature that may intersect with a workplace device, phone, or email.

“Think first before you act – that’s the best advice I can give,” said Berlin.


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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