One-Time MJ Use while holding TS clearance

Hi all, I have a question (ideally for adjudicators or someone with similar security experience). I am a federal employee in international affairs (not DOD, intelligence, or enforcement) who first received a TS clearance in 2013. I reported on my SF-86 in 2012 that when I was a minor 20 years prior, I smoked marijuana once, got sick, my parents took me to the hospital, and I was later sent to a couple of group counseling sessions (hence the reason I was required to report it). In my interview, I reported that I smoked maybe 4 more times in high school and then never again. I signed an intent not to use illegal drugs in the future as part of that interview (this was before any states had legalized marijuana). No other issues at all regarding my SF-86 and interview, and I sailed through the process and began work. The interviewer told me I was one of the easiest cases she had ever done because my history was so clean. Flash forward to 2018 for my clearance renewal, I had been posted in a war-torn country from 2015 to 2018, with substantial stressors. Just prior to returning to the US for home leave, I filled out my SF-86, and in the illegal drug use section I answered “no” all the way down, including the “have you EVER received counseling for illegal drug use” question. I did not think to report the incident as a minor since I already did in my prior SF-86, and was also in a hurry filling it out, and did not notice the “EVER” instead of “last 7 years”. Subsequent to submitting my SF-86, I went on home leave, and my wife and I visited Colorado to do some cycling and hiking. We discovered that marijuana was legal there and saw a dispensary and visited out of curiosity. One thing led to another, and we purchased and shared a single joint. I recall no guidance from my agency on marijuana use in legal states, and my judgement was also quite depleted after 3 years in a difficult country. About 6 months later, at my next post, I had my in-person interview and was asked about the use as a minor and why I did not list it in this recent SF-86. I explained the previously mentioned reason. I was then asked if I had any further marijuana use to report. I reported the single use on home leave in CO. I was asked why I marked “no” regarding illegal use whie holding a clearance, and I said the use occurred after I submitted the SF-86, and I was unaware that use in a legalized state would be an issue. That was that, no other issues. A year later, I received a SOR implicating Guidelines H and E, stating that I lacked candor on my recent SF-86 by not reporting the use as a minor, lacked candor by not disclosing on my SF-86 that I used while holding a clearance, and also for violating the statement of intent to not use illegal drugs. I retained a reputable security clearance attorney who responded with robust whole-person evidence (numerous high-level awards, promotions, positive annual reviews, a negative drug test I took upon receiving the SOR, five glowing character references from senior agency officials attesting to my integrity and fitness to hold a clearance and that this one mistake was not indicative of a pattern of poor judgement, triathlon and running race awards, volunteer work, and a statement of intent not to do it again with automatic revocation for any future violation). We submitted the response, and my attorney said it was a strong case, and this particular situation was common and generally not grounds for revocation given my mitigating factors and single use. Another year goes by, and I received a letter of revocation with no explanation or analysis (which violates the Executive Order governing the process), just that I was revoked and could appeal. We are now appealing to the board on substance and due process violations. My question is, as an adjudicator, how would you view this case? In retrospect, it was clearly a mistake on my part, but one I have been fully open about. Further, neither me nor my colleagues ever deal with classified info. I have never even set foot inside a classified section. Regardless, any insight from anyone with experience would be helpful. Thanks.

FYI, I’m not an investigator or adjudicator, so feel free to take my response with a grain of salt.

A few things in your story stand out to me:

  1. The “I didn’t realize the question said ‘have you EVER’ and thought it said ‘within the last 7 years’” defense is not going to fly. They give you 30 days or so to fill out the SF-86 when it’s initially released so they expect you to take the time to read the questions carefully and do the necessary homework.

  2. The “the agency never gave me guidance on marijuana use in legal states” is not going to fly. Marijuana use is federally illegal. Period. If you are a federal employee, you can’t use it no matter what state you live in.

  3. Lying or withholding unfavorable information on security forms is never a good idea, no matter the reason/excuse.

I don’t have a good prediction on how your case is going to turn out. Maybe things will work out in your favor. But breaking federal law while being federally employed and lacking candor on your SF-86 may be tough hurdles to overcome, regardless of your job performance track record.


Thanks for the input. I never lied or withheld any info. I was fully candid and reported everything. The only issue was clicking “no” to that question on receiving counseling, however I had already fully reported that in my previous SF-86, which they had. The recent usage itself, I reported that as well. The usage was a mistake, but I never lacked candor or withheld info. On the contrary, I provided everything.

I apologize if I misread your original post.

I would say that you have a chance in your case, but the people who make the decisions might take the lack-of-reporting-the-counseling thing more seriously than one might think. I don’t know for sure, I’m just speculating.

And based on what I’ve read here, post-clearance-granted MJ use seems to be less forgivable than pre-clearance-granted use, regardless of the context.

Anyways, not that this is breaking news, but the best thing to do is to continue to be truthful and forthcoming.

That is more than enough time.

I know some agencies only give 7 or 10 days and then tough stuff if you don’t complete by deadline.

I’m not sure how long I was given. I was in the middle of moving from one country to another, closing out extensive work projects, and traveling extensively for work when I was asked to complete the form. Suffice it to say, my mind was not as focused as it normally would have been when filling the form out. But I never lied or lacked candor.

I’m pretty sure they gave me 5. That’s a sure way to wreck your weekend

Ugh, the drum beat of the dumb drug war continues again MJ meanwhile it’s coming out someone involved w entering the Capitol Building has had a TS since 79. Everyone here will talk all the criminality in the MJ world. Can’t wait till we’re past this nonsense, very very sorry to hear this.

Not sure how they’d come down this hard in a non law enforcement role but it sucks. I know on publicly available cases, regardless of severity and basically artitrarily since it’s all guidelines, people had a hard time winning their appeals. Your case is different, and the fact the process wasn’t upheld maybe help you. Although I doubt the government has an interest in granting TS on technicality of their own errors. I’m sure they’ll be focusing on the substance of the decision as why you shouldn’t have one, not their screw up meaning you should.

I’ll be honest as I read this I thought you were going to have a story how.yoir response was accepted and you learned a life lesson.

I’m pulling for you. Sucks to have your life ripped out from under you like that, especially when not needing the clearance other then to check some requirements box. Sadly it’s all guidelines and interpretation. Depends if the mood of the deciders that day.

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I’ve definitely learned a myriad of life lessons through this, including the lesson that catastrophic mistakes and consequences can happen to anyone. Life owes us nothing, so it is ultimately up to us to “know the rules” the best we can. And I have an amazing wife who supports me and many colleagues in the agency who have gone to bat for me. I am very lucky in that sense.

The frustrating thing is the disproportionate harshness of this decision relative to the lack of attention placed on training and any real threat, particularly given my solid “whole person” track record, context, and honest reporting of the mistake, and no pattern of misconduct. Clearances in my agency are essentially an afterthought; we need one to hold the position, but the overwhelming majority of us never deal with classified info. We get basic annual training on things like cybersecurity awareness and what a classified folder looks like. Beyond that, nothing regarding our obligations as clearance holders, and certainly nothing involving the adjudicative guidelines. I wasn’t even aware that losing my clearance meant losing my job. The whole thing is just a frustrating mess.

At any rate, I’ve learned a tough lesson from this. Here’s to hoping for the best, but finding the silver linings if not.

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Yeah, it’s a horrible lesson that your life can be flipped upside down and completely changed. Nothing can prepare you for it.

It’s sad that you’re hit with Lack of Candor. That one can be very very difficult to overcome, definitely the hardest thing to mitigate.

Please update here when this is concluded if you’re able to as it will help inform others.

If this doesn’t get resolved in your favor you should be able to reapply in a year but boy that Candor charge will be difficult. You’d also need a job still where you can reapply. I would first see if there’s some sort of way you can be transferred to a position w no clearance (even if less pay) or that you enter in LWOP, keep your position w no pay (can still have your Health insurance covered if you do this) and then come out.of LWOP once you can reapply. It’s unlikely this is allowed since you’d probably need the clearance to be in LWOP.

At the least the uncleared position you’re paying into retirement and earning a pension year. If you can’t do that or the LWOP (less likely) next move is to have a contractor who knows and likes maybe hire you for the year until you you can reapply. Or the nuttiest of moves, become your own contractor and have your own group hire you for uncleared work.

Really sorry this happened cause of weed and that they’re considering it lack of Candor and not simply an oversight considering the only people that care about weed this much are the US Govt and the drug cartels.

Lack of candor shouldn’t be difficult to overcome if in fact one does not lack candor, and further proves it. We provided evidence that fully disproved one of the candor allegations, and explained that the other charge was baseless because I had reported it in their prior investigation and thought it to now be outside of the reporting period since it happened 25 years ago. I wish our process was like DOD or DOE, with an administrative judge and hearing process. Ours is basically a couple of security guys determining people’s lives in a vacuum with zero oversight or accountability. I accept the charge that I made a singular mistake by using marijuana, although I did so in a legal, commercialized state, so did not think it would be an issue. I fully reject lack of candor, and will take that to my grave. I have always been extremely ethical and truthful, and I have a long-established track record to prove it.

Luckily my skillset rarely requires a security clearance in private or public practice, so I do have options since I also have a solid reputation. If this goes south, I’ll shoot for a public trust govt position or something with a contractor. After this experience, I feel it will be some time before I care to get involved with security clearances again unless it is with an agency that adheres to the adjudicative standards and the proper appeals process.

Thanks for the advise. I will keep you posted. I’ve been on paid admin leave for over a year and expect another year before this second level appeal is resolved, one way or another.

Following the rules will prevent this. Just saying.


I agree. Likewise, adjudicators and security officials deciding these matters are not immune to the law. If you’re going to ding a person for breaking a rule, don’t turn around and violate an Executive Order, ignore all refuting and mitigating evidence provided, ignore the adjudicative standards, and deny clearly articulated due process just to do so. The law goes both ways.

It is hard to specify what an adjudicator thinks without seeing the whole case we shy away from that. What does stick out for me is that you are fully aware that drug use is prohibited while possessing a security clearance. I’m not sure of what agency you’re with, but that alone is disqualifying. People please understand that some state laws say it is ok, but federally it is not. Where you revoked for suitability or was your clearance revoked? There’s a difference


My clearance was revoked. Now appealing the revocation. I knew illegal drug use was prohibited. I did not pause to think about what that meant in a state where marijuana was fully legal and commercialized. And I was absolutely unaware of its impact on my security clearance. As I said, the mistake was fueled by a number of factors at the time. But it was a single mistake years ago, and one I have been fully candid about. I know I am ultimately responsible, but given that there is no pattern of misconduct and the abundance of mitigaing evidence I provided this seems very harsh. I should add that my wife obtained a clearance shortly after the incident as well, with a contractor for the same agency. She has yet to receive any security training and says that if we were not going through this right now, she would not have known either. It appears that there is a vast difference between agencies. This board seems to have mostly intelligence and DOD people. We are not in the IC, and neither of us have ever dealt with classified info.

Ok, couple of things here. Number one, if you never have access to classified, why a clearance? But that’s neither here nor there.

To those feeling this is about MJ…you really do not understand clearances and trust. Its about subjecting yourself to blackmail…It is a position of trust. If one has a revocation it limits the positions a person can serve in, a loss of income, etc. Hence, if I knew you smoked I could blackmail you to get what I want.

You smoked, had several counselings…yet went on to smoke 4 more times indicating the counseling had zero impact.

You disclosed all so you read the SF 86 indepth. You knew. You understood and yet in a subsequent reinvestigation didn’t speak to it.

I’ll give you a pass there. I understand thinking once reported its reported. But you strike me as educated, articulate, and a good reader.

Your arguments are structured around “yes I broke faith and trust, but look at this other stuff.” I run races.

I’m not really seeing how running mitigates that you broke trust.

You knew the rules. What other rules would you violate? Would you share classified material with uncleared folks if ever given access? You demonstrated you do not follow rules.

Awards are nice. Great work is nice. But you do not follow rules.

The government cannot trust your word.

That is the central point.

I don’t mean this to be harsh. I say this to illustrate the point. And it isn’t smoking MJ. Its knowing MJ is prohibited and doing it anyway.

The claims of your due process being denied are frivolous. Your outstanding record is a distraction, not a mitigation.

You may still get reinstated on appeal. I doubt it. I honestly hope you don’t lose your position, just access to possible classified. Withholding info, violating rules, falsifying a government form…and use of federally prohibited drugs is not acceptable. The argument about high stress foreign work…really cheapens the attempt for empathy. It looks like you are throwing up a bunch of distractions and not focusing on the matters that count. Inability to trust you vulnerability to blackmail and future rule violations.


I didn’t know the rules on use in a legal state. I was not informed or trained. We do not handle classified info. We work in humanitarian affairs. The clearance is a box check. Only the top echelon of the entire agency may ever have a chance of intersecting with classified info. And nobody in the entire agency is ever polygraphed. Regardless, I am 40+ years old. Those 4 more times and counceling happened when I was 16. I made a single mistake 25 years later, and reported it. I never falsified any forms or withheld any info. How can I be vulnerable to blackmail if I reported it?

Thanks for the info everyone. Your input is appreciated. I’m out.

Applicants/subjects have got to stop thinking of these issues at state level. It’s all federal all the time.


Your position is determined to be a high risk position, whether you have access to classified or not.
Marijuana use prohibition applies to any federal job or federal contracting position.

The amount of public articles, notices, and emails sent out during state level legalization efforts means the government did due diligence. Even this site constantly reminds everyone about drugs, finances, and foreign issue entanglement.

Signing the statement shows you knew and but would not use again in the future. Hard to defend against that one. Using the wife excuse doesn’t help your case - if she had also signed an intent letter not to use then she could possibly lose her job.

Good luck on your appeal.


We received no training or public notifications. I signed a statement before any states legalized it. My wife signed no statement at all (and she did not have a clearance when the incident happened). I feel like people on this forum are not hearing anything I’m saying. I understand the prohibition now, but clearances are not punitive, they are inferences of future unreliability. This singular mistake years ago, particularly given the context and abundant mitigating evidence that both disproved the candor allegation and showed that I am extremely reliable with good judgment, should not be grounds for revocation. It doesn’t even align with the adjudicative standards. There are people in my agency who got passes on current patterns of alcoholism, spousal abuse, and PTSD (in one case all three for one person) all while having clearances. To say that these people are reliable while I am not is disingenuous and clearly not in the interests of national security. The process needs to be done fairly and professionally or not done at all.