Obtaining Security Clearance

Illegal Drug Use – How Long of a Wait is Long Enough Before Applying for a Clearance?

Many on this forum have described their own personal history of illegal drug use and then ask for an opinion on how long they have to wait to have a chance at getting granted a security clearance. No one can answer that with certainty as many factors are involved and each situation is reviewed on its own merits. First of all, a better understanding is needed regarding what the government’s concern is with drug involvement. Illegal drug use shows a willingness to skirt the laws established by the government. If an individual picks and chooses which laws to follow, how can they be trusted to protect classified information? Drug use can weaken an individual’s judgment or mental health and may lead to high risk behavior. Addiction and dependency may lead financial issues or criminal activity in order to nourish the addiction. I could add a lot more here, but you get the picture, right? So what information is looked at when reviewing drug involvement? Here are the basics:

–          Frequency and recency of use

–          Circumstances (age, type of drugs, how obtained, motivation, and effect)

–          Rehabilitation (if any)

–          Intent for future use

So how long of a wait is long enough to overcome illegal drug involvement? There is no definitive set time period. Much will depend on the agency and the duties of the position. Below are general guidelines adjudicators follow:

–          One Year – if it was frequent marijuana use or if other drugs were used only experimentally

–          Two Years – if marijuana was used regularly or if other drugs were used occasionally (minus any aggravating circumstances, e.g., no arrests, physiological dependence)

–          Three Years – if other drugs besides marijuana were used frequently or regularly and rehabilitation from dependence was needed (minus other aggravating circumstances)

–          Five Years or more – Heavy drug users, anyone who has failed a drug treatment program, or anyone involved in drug trafficking

Keep in mind these are only general guidelines. The criteria for agencies like the CIA, NSA, NRO, DEA, and FBI may be a lot more stringent, whereas, agencies like the VA, FEMA, Interior, and others may be more forgiving. The bottom line is this; if you apply the mitigating conditions outlined in the adjudicative guidelines then you have a chance.