NEWS + ADVICE
Medical Marijuana Edibles and Your Security Clearance
The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals adjudicates industrial security clearance cases for contractor personnel. Stay apprised of recent Industrial Security Clearance Review (ISCR) cases and their outcomes to safeguard your own clearance.
If you want to maintain your cleared career, it’s necessary to understand and adhere to the 13 adjudicative guidelines used to determine eligibility for a security clearance. One of those includes Guideline H, Drug Involvement and Substance Misuse. This guideline can sometimes cause confusion with clearance holders, as the landscape of marijuana legalization in the United States has become increasingly complex.
As more states move to legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, it can be challenging to keep up with the ever-changing rules and regulations. However, for security clearance holders, it’s not that hazy. It’s actually quite simple. Regardless of state laws, when it comes to marijuana, you are bound by federal law, and any form of participation is strictly prohibited.
So what happens if you’ve used marijuana? Is all hope lost of obtaining or maintaining a security clearance? Not necessarily.
Let’s dive into an ISCR case1 involving Guideline H. Find out if a security clearance holder who took marijuana edibles on multiple occasions was able to keep their security clearance after responding to a Statement of Reasons (SOR) and attending a hearing before an administrative judge as part of the adjudication process.
Meet the Applicant
This case involves a 37-year-old professional with a 14 year career at a major DoD contractor. He has a security clearance (since 2009), a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and has been promoted five times. He’s also a husband and father. Despite the applicant’s impressive career achievements, he found himself in a precarious situation due to a history of marijuana use while holding a security clearance.
While seeking to renew his security clearance eligibility, he admitted to using marijuana on his most recent Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing (e-QIP). He disclosed that he had purchased and used medical marijuana edibles from a dispensary, from September 2017 to sometime in 2018. In response, the DCSA issued an SOR due to Guideline H concerns.
Painting a Full Picture
While purchasing and using marijuana is illegal under federal law (and therefore for all clearance holders regardless of the state they reside in), the applicant had some mitigating conditions in his favor. He did not simply partake in this illegal activity out of pure recreation.
The applicant explained that his ADHD and anxiety disorder was debilitating and taking a toll on both his professional and personal life, especially his marriage. He was under the care of a psychiatrist and had taken medications for his condition, but they did not provide sufficient relief and he encountered significant side effects.
Though the applicant had never used marijuana previously, he read it was successful at providing relief from ADHD/anxiety. A doctor wrote him a recommendation letter in September of 2017 for medical marijuana and he then used edibles about 15 times over nine months. He found it was more effective than his previous prescriptions and had fewer side effects.
However, he testified that prior to filling out his e-QIP in July of 2018, he had already stopped using edibles. This is helpful mitigation, as the hearing took place in December of 2022, and he could state that he abstained from illegal drug use for several years.
Even though edibles worked pretty well for the applicant, he began using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) techniques that he learned from a new therapist. The CBT techniques were so effective that he stopped using marijuana completely. As a new father, he wanted to be a drug-free role model. He also understands that is actions were illegal under Federal law.
He committed to not using marijuana in the future and signed a statement to that effect. The applicant admitted to poor judgment. He was driven by desperation and the feeling that he needed to do something quickly to control his mental health, which was damaging his career and marriage.
If he feels distressed again, he plans to consult his mental health team and take time off work, highlighting his commitment to both his well-being and compliance with the law.
The Verdict: Successful Mitigation
The administrative judge considered all aspects of the applicant’s situation and noted the last drug use occurred more than four years ago, and was under unusual circumstances. They recognized that the applicant had made significant, permanent behavioral changes, and it would be highly unlikely the applicant would ever use marijuana again. As a result, the applicant’s eligibility for access to classified information was granted.
While every case and outcome is unique, the following circumstances played a crucial part in mitigating the government’s concerns for this particular applicant:
- Medical Necessity: The applicant’s drug use was driven by a sincere desire to alleviate symptoms of ADHD and anxiety. He had been under the care of a psychiatrist who prescribed various medications, but they proved ineffective and had undesirable side effects.
- Legal Marijuana Use: The applicant used marijuana in the form of edibles legally (but remember this is still illegal in the eyes of the Federal government), as he had a doctor’s recommendation and purchased them from state-licensed dispensaries. This demonstrates an attempt to stay within the bounds of the law.
- Sought Professional Help: The applicant switched to CBT therapy, a drug-free alternative that effectively managed his conditions. This change in approach showcases his commitment to finding healthier solutions.
- Exemplary Work Performance: Throughout his career, the applicant demonstrated outstanding performance at work. He rapidly climbed the ladder, receiving five promotions, emphasizing his dedication and reliability as an employee, even amid personal challenges.
- Parental Responsibility: Becoming a father was a turning point for the applicant. He recognized the importance of setting a drug-free example for his child and maintaining a drug-free home environment.
- Acknowledged Poor Judgment: The applicant openly admitted that his past actions were a result of desperation and poor judgment. He recognized the gravity of his actions and committed to avoiding such behavior in the future.
This real-life case teaches us that even when facing security clearance challenges related to drug involvement under Guideline H, a well-documented and sincere effort to change one’s behavior can make a significant difference. Protecting your security clearance requires not only adherence to guidelines but also demonstrating personal growth and a commitment to national security.