Painful Choices.
November 28, 2009 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Relatives-In-Law Might Run Shady Business From Home, Should I Go There For Christmas?

Hi Ask.Metafilter, I really need your help.

I recently learned that my SO's relatives might be growing weed at their home (on West Coast). The relatives don't know that I know. Because my particular career might require a security clearance (which I do not have yet), I want NOTHING to do with it.

When I heard about their possible shady business I decided to never go to their home. It was a simple, private rule to keep me a safe distance from their possible shady business. I was happy meet them anywhere else (restaurant, etc..), just not at their house. However, now they have invited us to their home for Christmas morning.

I am faced with two bad choices:

1) Not go to their house, forcing my SO lie to the relatives about why I cannot make it. This hurts SO (alot) in the process (which I absolutely don't want to do), because she would have to lie, spend Christmas without me, and get grief from relatives because her SO isn't there.

2) Break my own rule, and go to their home. This choice is best for my SO, but puts me uncomfortably close to an possible activity I want no part of. Furthermore, I worry they might decide "come out of the closet" and talk about their shady gardening activities while I am there.

Currently, my plan is to go to their home for a few hours on Christmas morning and then leave, making the excuse that we have to go to another party. If they talk about their business, my SO and I would leave right away. My SO fully supports this plan.

What would you do? Does anyone know if going to their home will affect my chances of getting a security clearance (given that I am not sure they are doing it and have absolutely absolutely no part in it)? What are the dangers?

Short Version:

1. SO's relatives MIGHT grow weed from their home.
2. They don't know I know.
3. I might need security clearance in future.
4. Previously, I decided to never go to their home, just in case.
5. SO's relatives invited us to Christmas at their home.
6. I am worried going there would ruin my chances of getting security clearance.

P.S. Having Christmas morning outside the home (at a restaurant) is not an option.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you sure they are possibly growing weed as a business? When people grow weed in their backyard, it's usually for personal use. Serious pot growers use national parks or greenhouses.

I doubt you could in any way risk your security clearance for being in the same house as someone else's personal weed. I'm not a lawyer, but you are not in possession of it, nor are you participating in a conspiracy to grow it. You're just there for Christmas morning.

Also, if you're as square as you make yourself out to be, the relatives probably will spare you the tour of the garden.
posted by musofire at 1:31 PM on November 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

I don't think having in laws that grow pot will come up in a security clearance background check. What would I do? If I didn't know for sure, I'd do whatever my SO wanted to do unless I had actionable intelligence to the contrary. Even then, really, just because you're at someone's house for Christmas doesn't mean you'd be an accessory to any crimes that go on there behind closed doors.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2009

I don't know. I'm not sure you can lose your "security clearance" because you were inside of a house where someone was growing marijuana without your knowledge. I suppose that the FBI could swoop in through the windows and bust everyone present in the house with growing and distributing marijuana and you will have a felony record forever, but as it's not your house and you're just visiting for the holidays that seems so entirely impossible that I think it's impossible.

I also don't know that these people are likely to see you and ejaculate, "Oh my God! We're growing marijuana! Won't you please come down into our secret store room and smell it all in and then take a monster bong rip?"

It doesn't matter that you think you might know they grow pot. Forget you think you know. It doesn't help and or hurt you.

In all likelihood nothing will happen, no one will mention it, and live will move on.

I honestly think you're being overly paranoid and you should chill out. I was going to suggest you smoke a joint, but that's probably crossing the line.
posted by kbanas at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know anything about security clearances, but I don't see how possibly being somewhere in the vicinity of gray activities (from your language it seems they're likely growing it for personal use?) that may or may not be happening at all would affect a clearance you might get. In my experience with people in this area they are very unlikely to talk about it with you if they're growing weed at all. I doubt they're going to search the houses of your relatives for your clearance.

It might be helpful if we knew why you think what you think.

Your plan sounds perfect given your set of discomforts.
posted by cmoj at 1:34 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I say follow YOUR values and do what feels most right to you. And be honest about it.

We make choices in life, and said choices have consequences. If their lifestyle is in opposition to yours, well, so be it.

If they don't want to deal with the follow out of a 'shady business' they shouldn't be involved. Granted, this may not endear you to them very much, but I doubt you're worried about that. It sounds like you have fairly different values.

As a further possibility, why not tell them (or have the SO tell them) of your concern and suggest a neutral meeting point instead, it's worked in the past, hasn't it?
posted by Sustainable Chiles at 1:34 PM on November 28, 2009

Why would your SO have to lie?

I think a lot of your problem could be managed much more easily if everyone involved is just honest.

I'd encourage your SO to tell her relatives that you've heard from a (I presume) reliable source that they're growing weed at their house and that -- while you (again I presume) don't have a personal moral issue with that -- you are concerned about how it could be problematic when you go for a security clearance. So, while you appreciate the invitation, you're going to have to decline.

The truth is usually a whole lot easier when you're looking at the big picture. And you do seem to be a big picture kind of guy. Just tell the truth and encourage your SO to do the same. Be true to your wiser self -- the one who was thinking about the long-term consequences.
posted by rhartong at 1:35 PM on November 28, 2009 [12 favorites]

To go a step further, you should consider the possibility that in any private residence you enter the owner might be growing marijuana. You don't know. They may not tell you. It's none of your business.

So, are you going to never enter another private residence ever again because there might be marijuana inside?

Because, honestly, that's what this is. You think they might be growing it. You don't know for sure. Hell, anyone might be growing it. Anyone.
posted by kbanas at 1:35 PM on November 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

I was specifically asked during the clearance process if I had ever been around anyone (anyone, ever) who smoked pot. I answered, truthfully, that I had been. I got the clearance but I don't know what would have happened if I had been closely tied to someone growing pot.

I ducked out of several parties where I knew there would be pot (and stronger) by saying I needed to do so due to the clearance. Maybe people are more understanding about that in DC.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:49 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Security clearance questions ask about whether you've used or purchase/sold any illegal drugs, not just whether you've been around them. You could be at a concert with (or just near) people actively smoking it and not have any problems, or in your in-laws house with no problems. I know people with clearances who used in college but stopped and it wasn't held against them.

If you're uncomfortable just being around marijuana, then if it comes up, just express your discomfort with the topic or excuse yourself. Bathroom visits are perfectly valid excuses that extricate you from any conversation if you don't want to express your discomfort.

Just go, have fun, and try to forget about their possible-shady-operations, because that's not what Christmas is about!

To reiterate - you can NOT be held responsible for someone else's illegal behaviors, even if you visit their home.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2009

This will not impact your getting a security clearance. It is kind of crazy to fear it would.

Here are the "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information" related to drugs:

"25. Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
(a) Any drug abuse (see above definition);
(b) testing positive for illegal drug use;
(c) illegal drug possession, including cultivation, processing, manufacture, purchase, sale, or distribution; or possession of drug paraphernalia;
(d) diagnosis by a duly qualified medical professional (e.g., physician, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist) of drug abuse or drug dependence;
(e) evaluation of drug abuse or drug dependence by a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a recognized drug treatment program;
(f) failure to successfully complete a drug treatment program prescribed by a duly qualified medical professional;
(g) any illegal drug use after being granted a security clearance;
(h) expressed intent to continue illegal drug use, or failure to clearly and convincingly commit to discontinue drug use. "

It sounds like you have done none of these things. You sound paranoid enough I'd be more worried about Guidline I: Psychological Conditions

"28. Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
(a) behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness that is not covered under any other guideline, including but not limited to emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre behavior;
posted by pseudonick at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Perhaps your SO could make a point of telling her family about how seriously you take your security clearance status--not necessarily because they need to hide their large-scale marijuana business from you, but rather because it would be awkward for you if her brother or cousin invited you to smoke thinking it was just a friendly gesture.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:00 PM on November 28, 2009

Another vote here for not asking your SO to lie for you, regardless of whether you decide to spend Christmas there or not. Just be honest about your concerns about the security clearance.

But I also think you shouldn't worry about it that much. I have groups of friends containing both drug users and people with various sorts of security clearances, and AFAIK it has never caused a problem for either party. Security clearances, as I understand it, are mostly concerned about what you do, how truthful you are, and whether you have any weaknesses that could allow someone to coƫrce you (gambling debts, affairs, closeted homosexuality).
posted by hattifattener at 2:14 PM on November 28, 2009

I'm going to guess that unless the relatives are complete morons, that they want to keep their grow operation (whether it is a couple of plants in a bedroom closet or in the garden or a basement full of growlights) on the down low. The more people they tell, the more chance they have of getting busted. They will probably take measures to ensure that you don't smell, see or hear about their plants. Also, if they did have a big grow operation, with intentions of distributing it on a large scale, I'm thinking they would not want to host a family holiday gathering at the site of the operation.

That said, I think your plan sounds like a good one. I'd just act like you don't know what is going on, because really, you don't know the story. If they whip out the pipe and start passing it around, you're totally justified in leaving their house if it makes you uncomfortable. Now if you suspected you were going to go spend the holidays in a house where methamphetamine was being produced, that would be different.
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:30 PM on November 28, 2009

Currently, my plan is to go to their home for a few hours on Christmas morning and then leave, making the excuse that we have to go to another party. If they talk about their business, my SO and I would leave right away. My SO fully supports this plan.

This sounds like a good plan. As others have said upthread, their personal activity in their own private home will not affect your clearance. You are not condoning or encouraging drug use or sales by opening presents at their house. I know you're just being thorough, but you do sound pretty uptight about something that is very low-risk.
posted by hermitosis at 2:40 PM on November 28, 2009

Looking back my answer closed a little harshly.

I don't think your being so paranoid they would consider not giving you a clearance. But your situation is so far from raising a security concern you really shouldn't worry about visiting their home unless:

a. The job for which you might apply is head of the FBI's anti-Home Grow operation
b. Their pot operation is a massive countrywide cartel

Even if they talk to you about it it will have no effect on a clearance case.

To give you an example, here is a case where a clearance holder smoked pot while employed with a clearance, was caught, and still retained a clearance:
posted by pseudonick at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2009

my son works for the CIA... the security clearance for that agency could be impacted by something like this.

You have every right to adhere to your beliefs and goals. Your SO needs to respect that.
posted by HuronBob at 2:58 PM on November 28, 2009

Surely it makes a huge difference what kind of clearance you are seeking. I know someone who was denied a position with the CIA because they had been around people smoking pot before, but I think standards were more stringent in the era in which he applied than they are now in regards to that type of activity.

What I would be more worried about for any kind of security clearance is if you ever marry this SO and his parents are known weed growers or end up being caught one day. There are people kicked out of/denied positions/clearance because of activities of close relatives. It might not even matter if you're married, I'm not sure.
posted by ishotjr at 3:37 PM on November 28, 2009

You are seriously over thinking this plate of beans - this is really not a big deal. You could go in there with full knowledge they're growing pot by the truckload and dealing it to small children and it will not jeopardize your security clearance.

Actually, I'm more concerned that you don't seem to have a very firm grasp of what a security clearance is, how it is obtained or what the vetting process screens for. You can be totally upfront about having smoked pot, let along been in the same house with it, and totally pass. Visiting your pothead inlaws once a year at home will not bungle even a Level 3 SCT.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:43 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was interviewed as a personal reference for a friend's security clearance background check. She was applying for a job with the State Dept. The questions included the ones above about her drug and alcohol use, but also included ones about her parents and family. (At the time she wasn't married, so I don't know which questions would be included of a married person's in-laws.) The interviewer asked me questions which I think were designed to find out if her parents were in any kind of financial trouble or anything that could be used to blackmail her or the like. So it's not impossible for something like that to come up.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:52 PM on November 28, 2009

It might not be a "shady" business. It is legal (as defined by the state of California, if not the Feds) in some jurisdictions to grow marijuana - for a cannabis club, for instance. Is there really no way your SO can ask the relatives what's up?

But don't ask your SO to lie for you, and don't lie during the vetting process for your security clearance.
posted by rtha at 3:53 PM on November 28, 2009

Just a little anecdote about "security clearance." My BIL went very far into a job interview process for the FBI and had to take a lie detector test. They asked if he ever smoked pot, and he said no, when actually he did a bit in high school and college (years prior). He failed the lie detector and did not get the job. They told him later that they didn't give a crap about his smoking weed, they were upset that he lied.

Point being, if you are honest, I don't think anyone is ever going to care (or know) about you spending a few hours at a house with some pot plants. Probably many of us have and we don't even know it.
posted by Bueller at 4:41 PM on November 28, 2009

A lot of people here are making statements about your craziness in being concerned about this without really backing up their "knowledge" of why this is not a big deal. I would be wary of listening to DarlingBrithem.

I think it's worthwhile taking a step back from the specific issue to a more general one, which is "to what extent should I be able to control my associations with people who are doing things I don't approve of?," where "associations" includes levels of association and "don't approve of" applies to the various reasons you might not want to be around it. Were you a newly recovering alcoholic and worried that your in-laws would be drinking heavily, should you not be able to excuse yourself from the party? Were you a black woman and suspected that your in-laws were members of the KKK, would you not be sane to choose to avoid them? Were you a staffer for a political campaign, might you choose to stay away from your in-laws if they were opposition researchers for the other candidate? Who cares why you don't want to be around it, if you feel like your in-laws might be doing something that compromises your principles or chances, you have every right to stay away. They, conversely, have every right to choose to change their behavior to entice you to come to their house. You should, however, be honest about the whole thing. The way to respect your SO is to be honest about what keeps you away, and give them the chance to be honest with you. Maybe they aren't doing anything of which you would disapprove.
posted by OmieWise at 5:08 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think there are other questions you need to be asking yourself.

First, how significant is your other? Do you expect to marry or otherwise carry on a long-term relationship with her? If so, consider this: Anybody in the same automobile with a person who is stopped for a broken tail light can be arrested for possession in many jurisdictions. Many things you do with these people could expose you to a real, yet insignificant, risk of arrest. You have to decide how significant this risk is in regards to your daily life with your SO.

Second, how real are your concerns? If you are concerned about knowingly being in the same house with recreational drugs, you most likely are severely limited as to where you can go. I'm guessing that most of the homes in your neighborhood have some sort of stash. If you have a sincerely-held moral opposition to recreational drugs, then you must so state this and express it clearly to your SO and SO-in-laws. If, as I suspect, you are simply concerned for your possible security clearance future, simply say so and, if they are any kind of good in-laws, they will understand and help you make alternative arrangements.

Last, is there someone in your place of employment whom you trust to ask a hypothetical question? I would not mention So, In-laws, or grow operations. I would ask what kind of circumstances might affect a clearance, such as being in the same house or car with someone who was subsequently found to have the wrong kind of herbs. This is a legitimate concern and should not raise any red flags. If pressed for a reason, just explain that you want to make sure you don't do anything that would affect your clearance, what with the way people you met could be users or something, blah, blah, blah.
posted by Old Geezer at 5:09 PM on November 28, 2009

There is the possibility (particularly as they are on the West Coast) that they are growing it legally.
posted by sophist at 6:21 PM on November 28, 2009

SO, you do know, sweetie, that if I'm in someone's home, and that person is engaged in illegal activity, like growing pot, I might have to report it. Are you sure we should go to your folks; house?
posted by theora55 at 6:46 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look, your security clearance is really important. Do not listen to strangers on the internet. They may be giving you info about completely different clearances at completely different agencies with standards and practices that don't apply to you. There are lawyers who could give you advice tailored to your particular situation. Memail me and I will see if I can find a referral.
posted by yarly at 7:07 PM on November 28, 2009

In the unlikely event there were to be a bust or any other situation that caused law enforcement to come to the house while you were there a remote possibility exists that you might find yourself taken into custody and/or arrested. An arrest of any kind would look bad on your security screening.

If your clearance is a Public Trust Position or any higher level of security clearance you will find yourself sitting somewhere with a very polite but insistant person who is going to ask you some pointed questions. My advice is to avoid any risks that might jeopardize acheiving something that you want to do. And don't lie or evade questions when the clearance interview happens.
posted by X4ster at 7:42 PM on November 28, 2009

Hell, I grow it and two out of three of my sons have the highest se*cur*ity level.

Really though, why not plan a cruise or trip out of town, ostensibly for romantic reasons, and you can deal with the in-laws next year. No hurt feelings and you will have a great time sipping Margaritas and basking in the sun.

posted by ~Sushma~ at 7:48 PM on November 28, 2009

OmieWise, I'm right here. No need to be snide coy.

People requiring security clearance do not have to have lilly-white histories. There is bad information in this thread, but it is not from me.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:00 PM on November 28, 2009

I think it depends mostly on the clearance you will be seeking. If it is a generic contractor-level SECRET clearance that just requires you to fill out a form and wait a few months, it's unlikely to be an issue. However, if you are going for TS/SCI with a polygraph for a three-letter agency, you should steer clear of anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. While polygraphs are not 100% foolproof, they are capable of ferreting out topics about which you feel uncomfortable. Better not to put yourself in that situation.
posted by Nothlit at 8:10 PM on November 28, 2009

If your career might require you to obtain security clearance in the future, is there a person in charge of personnel security at your place of work? Find one that you're comfortable with and ask them to go over the process with you so you have an idea of what comes up. Then, if you're comfortable with them, you can ask your questions. They'll have a better grasp of your current and future situations, maybe they can ease your mind.

When I was in college, the rumor swirling about was that if you got a job for the NSA they required a spinal tap of some fluid in your vertebrae that could detect if you had ever done anything illegal, etc etc scary stories.

Seriously, the unknown can be scary. Get someone to go over the process with you if it's looming this forefront in your mind this far in advance.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:20 PM on November 28, 2009

(DarlingBri, or anybody else saying that you have authoritative info about what's required for a clearance, it might be helpful if you stated your bona fides or why your info is better than other people's -- or where authoritative info can be found in an outside source. Otherwise this is a contest of who can type in the most convincing tone of voice.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:21 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

You should not take "advice" about background checks and security-clearance procedures from people on the Internet.
posted by cribcage at 9:46 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have not ever had to get a security clearance, but I have a very close friend who has (work with the DoD and later for the FBI as an agent in training or whatever they're called), and I know for a fact he would not get anywhere near a place like that during the process or while working for the agency in question. Your clearance and career are more important than your SO's family feelings. Trust your gut. Be honest. Your SO should not have to lie.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:14 PM on November 28, 2009

Here is what the CIA has to say about security clearance. Here is the skinny on the DOJ process from Harvard Law. It's not like this information isn't out there. You can take drugs and still be fine, let alone be in a house where they are present.

My experiential basis is that I have a family more or less entrenched in the DOJ, although we dispatch our latant Republicans to Langley. This process is not unfamiliar to me, nor are the results. They're not looking for perfect people with completely drug-free histories; I am not related to anyone who fits that bill.

Previous Ask questions bear out this experience. Again, they are looking for candour, not perfection. (A healthy percentage of MeFites have been though this process; I'm surprised more have not piped up.)

By all means the OP should do as he thinks best and what is within his own moral comfort zone. I simply reject the notion that stepping foot in his girlfriend's parents' suspected pothead home will foil his clearance. But hey sure, I could be wrong.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:23 PM on November 28, 2009

Maybe some people can take drugs and get some levels of clearance, but a good friend of mine had an offer for a summer internship at DOJ rescinded despite being highly qualified because he admitted to having smoked a few joints during college many years ago. Candor didn't suffice, and having a clean background was critical. Being on the property where a major illegal drug farm is located isn't exactly something security people tend to look past too easily, assuming they ever find out. So that's one end of the spectrum

At the other, another friend of mine is a cop and regularly hangs with people she knows have a major grow-op, in her jurisdiction, at their house where the grow-op is, and she has no qualms about this.

In other words, find an authority who can advise you about your situation. And if you can't realistically go to their house (or really just don't want to and refuse to lie and refuse to tell the truth) come up with a legitimate excuse, like go hang out at a day care center 10 days beforehand and catch a nasty virus. Spare them all the germs, and stay home.
posted by Capri at 11:08 PM on November 28, 2009

Security clearance is a broad term. Depending on the clearance level and agency it might be relevant. Also, security clearance requirements vary over time. None of us can tell you what will be relevant on some future security clearance.

Set aside the security clearance. It's okay to decline an invitation to someone's home because there are drugs there. Some people might find that judgmental, but it's your call. If the behaviors in that home offend your values, it's fine to respectfully say no thank you.

However, don't ask your SO to lie about it. There's no shame in having differing values from your in-laws. You can respect their right to do as they wish in their home and still not want to visit.

Option 3.Don't go and tell them why without being a judgmental ass. If there is a misunderstanding, they have the option to clear it up. If they are growing, they'll know that you aren't going to visit and you can arrange other places to meet. Either way, you'll have settled the issue long-term without asking your SO to lie or be the middle man.
posted by 26.2 at 1:18 AM on November 29, 2009

I don't know why you can't be honest about all this, unless your suspicions about your in-laws "business" are so unfounded that you would sound like a complete loon by bringing up the possibility. Are you planning to make excuses for not visiting their house for the duration of your relationship?
posted by oneirodynia at 10:44 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Unless your in-laws are real bad guys and are a real potential target for law enforcement, you don't have a problem here. Target meaning they're selling enough pot to get them on the radar.

When your background investigation happens, you'll be examined to find YOUR potential risks. As straight and law abiding as you sound, you shouldn't have any problems.

On a more personal note, I suggest that you take option 2 and go visit your in-laws. Thinking of risk management...the risk of screwing up your relationship over this is much greater than the risk of not getting your clearance.

Also, you owe it to yourself to give these folks a shot. Just because they may be growing and smoking some pot doesn't make them scofflaw dirtbags. Give 'em a shot and then make choices.

Good luck!
posted by snsranch at 5:33 PM on November 29, 2009

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