Trying to keep up with changing drug policies can seem like a minefield – particularly with CBD, THC, and a whole host of other marijuana and hemp-based products being touted on nearly every corner and a growing number of states legalizing some form of the drug.

Hard and fast rules are no longer hard and fast. But when it comes to recent drug use, the good news is there is a lot that can be mitigated.

True or False: If you’re denied a security clearance due to drug use, don’t bother fighting it.

A recent applicant for a security clearance used marijuana throughout a four-year period during college. A year later he applied for a security clearance for his role working as a defense contractor. His initial application was denied, but on an appeal on the written record, he was able to mitigate the drug issues.

The applicant didn’t have much in his favor, beyond the fact that the drug use was during college, and the amount of time that had passed between his use and his clearance application was nearing two years by the time his appeal was made.

In addition to marijuana, the applicant admitted to using LSD approximately every month for about 14 months, in order to improve his “mental state and general motivation.” The LSD use also ended approximately two years before the applicant applied for a security clearance. The applicant called on the government to consider changing perceptions of drug use in its decision, and emphasized that he would not use marijuana unless it became legal at the federal level, and that he had no desire to use LSD at all in the future (it turns out it wasn’t that great at improving motivation after all, I guess).

False: Drug use can be mitigated. Don’t throw in the towel if you’re denied.

We’ve previously covered several instances where an individual was denied clearance eligibility due to drug use and the denial stuck. In most of those cases the issue was the recency of the drug use. While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has clarified that drug use prior to applying for a security clearance should not be used to deny clearance eligibility, that doesn’t mean drug use isn’t considered when determining reliability and trustworthiness. The key issue in prior drug use is how likely an individual is to reuse. This is where age and stage of life are absolutely a factor – because the applicant’s prior drug use was during college, and because he had not used since beginning his new job, and because he was able to show passage of time – including the additional time from when the clearance was denied and responding to a Statement of Reasons (SOR) – those are all mitigations that helped the applicant to show that he could be trusted to refrain from drugs in the future – and adhere to federal government policies.


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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.