Obtaining Security Clearance

Drug Involvement and the New Adjudicative Desk Reference

The Department of Defense issued an updated Adjudicative Desk Reference (ADR) in March 2014 to assist adjudicators, investigators, and security managers to implement the U.S. Government Personnel Security Program. As in previous versions of the ADR, drug involvement is considered potentially disqualifying conduct.  With so much media and press attention being given to the legalization of marijuana by individual states, I thought it best to revisit this subject to remind those who work for the federal government and especially those with security clearances, of the potential ramifications for illegal drug use under federal law.

The updated desk reference states that “persons who use illegal drugs are not suitable for federal employment.” Applicants cannot be held to a no-prior-use standard, but any illegal drug use at all by a current U.S. Government employee or member of the military is a violation of this presidential order. Use of an illegal drug or misuse of a prescription drug raises questions about an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness for the following reasons:

  •  Illegal drug use may indicate an unwillingness or inability to abide by the law.
  •  Drug use may weaken judgment.
  •  Some types of drug use reflect a tendency toward irresponsible or high-risk behavior.
  •  Users of illegal drugs may be susceptible to blackmail, especially if exposure of drug use could cost them their jobs.
  •  Drug abuse or dependence may indicate the presence of broad emotional or personality problems of security concern.
  • Drug use may cause financial problems, leading to criminal activity to finance a drug habit. Conversely, unexplained affluence may indicate involvement in drug sales.

The fact remains that drug involvement is an issue for anyone seeking a security clearance, as well as those who currently possess one. Under federal law it is still illegal to use, possess, grow, or sell marijuana. As with all potential issues, full disclosure and honesty will go a long way towards the possibility for mitigation.