If I Have Used Drugs, Will My Security Clearance Be Denied?

Posted by Ashleigh N. Berglund | Jul 26, 2023 | 0 Comments

If you are applying for a security clearance or renewal, then you are familiar with Standard Form 86 or the “Questionnaire for National Security Positions.” You probably also know that there is an entire section covering illegal use of drugs and drug activity. If you have ever used drugs, reading even the first question might stir panic:

“In the last seven (7) years, have you illegally used any drugs or controlled substances?”

Remain calm. A “yes” answer does not necessarily doom your application. For those that have used drugs or controlled substances previously, it is still possible to be approved for access to classified information. A determination will be based on several factors including the type of drug or controlled substance; the frequency and duration of use; the recency of your last use, and the general circumstances surrounding your use.

What if Marijuana is Legal in my State?

It's important to note that questions here pertain to the illegal use of drugs and controlled substances pursuant to federal law, not state law. Currently, the use of marijuana is still prohibited by federal law; therefore, even if marijuana use is legal in your state, and you have used marijuana in any form within the last seven years, it is still considered an illegal use for the purposes of this questionnaire.

If you have used marijuana or other controlled substances, rest assured. Your answers, and any information derived from your answers, CANNOT be used against you in a subsequent criminal proceeding. Thus, you should feel comfortable to answer these questions honestly without fear of criminal prosecution for your disclosures.

Ultimately, if you indicate you have used drugs or controlled substances in the past, it may raise a concern for your application. The Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information notes that the use of drugs or controlled substances “raises questions about a person's ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules and regulations.” However, disclosing that you have used drugs or controlled substances in the past does not automatically result in a denied clearance.

How Can I Mitigate Any Concerns about My Past Drug Use?

There are several factors that may mitigate the potential concern raised by your drug use.

  1. Consult with an attorney
    First, if your use happened a long time ago or your use was very infrequent, it is unlikely that your use would cause doubt on your current reliability, trustworthiness, or good judgment such that it would adversely affect your application. Conversely, if you have used recently or you have an extensive history of drug use, you should consult with an attorney prior to submitting your application to discuss the likelihood of obtaining a clearance and the effect of any potential denial on your ability to acquire a clearance in the future. In certain situations, it may be best to wait to submit your application until additional time has lapsed.

  2. Distance yourself from past association
    Another potential mitigating factor is that you have distanced yourself from people and the environment in which you used drugs. Taking affirmative steps to disassociate from drug-using individuals and changing or avoiding the environment where you used drugs are circumstances that must be considered on your application. If you have an in-person interview for your clearance, you may be asked to disclose the names of contacts who are familiar with your previous drug use. Thus, you should avoid contact with any current, known drug users and any situations in which you previously used drugs.

  3. Be truthful in your application
    Ultimately, it is vital to be truthful and honest when completing your application. Failure to disclose previous drug use, once discovered, will raise serious, additional concerns for your application. A lack of candor or dishonesty constitutes another concern based upon “personal conduct” that requires careful mitigation in order to obtain or maintain a clearance. Thus, if you have previously been dishonest on a clearance application and are seeking renewal or pursuing a higher clearance, it is imperative you speak to an attorney as soon as possible.

At Patriots Law Group, we're here to help. We have represented many clients, both military and civilian, through all stages of security clearance adjudications. Our thorough knowledge and experience in this practice area lends itself to providing you valuable advice throughout an undoubtedly stressful process. Let us help you to reach the best resolution possible. Give us a call today at 301-952-9000.

DISCLAIMER:  The information above is for general informational purposes only.  No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information.  Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland and Virginia

About the Author

Ashleigh N. Berglund

"As an Air Force veteran, I can think of no greater honor than representing the same deserving men and women in protecting their own individual rights.” Ashleigh N. Berglund served as an active duty Judge Advocate (JAG) for the United States Air Force for five years before joining Patriots Law Group.


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